An Interview with Johnny Dee of Britny Fox & Doro

Numerous drummers brought about rolling thunder in the 1980s, but few had the impact of Philly veteran, Johnny Dee.

Dee’s origins in music date back to the young age of twelve, when he began teaching himself the drums in the image of players such as Peter Criss and Ian Piace. As Dee grew older, he became a regular on a burgeoning Philly Rock scene, and soon, he joined World War III and recorded the band’s debut album in relatively short order.

Dee’s aspirations were great, and they soon took him to Florida, where he met Paul Chapman and joined Britsh Heavy Metal outfit, Waysted. While Dee’s time in Waysted was short, his initial recording with the band, Save Your Prayers, remains a classic to this day.

Eventually, most of the members of Waysted ultimately returned to the UK, with Dee opting to head home to Philly, with no gig in hand. As fate would have it, local Philly heroes, Britny Fox, were in need of a drummer to replace the fallen Tony Destra. In relatively short order, Dee joined Billy Childs, Michael Kelly Smith, and Dead Davidson, and in 1988, the quartet recorded its still fresh debut, Britny Fox.

Success came quickly for Britny Fox, but as is often the case, the limelight was fleeting. On the heels of near-platinum selling success, Britny Fox returned to the studio to record its follow-up, Boys In Heat, only to face a series of unfortunate events, coupled with interpersonal issues, which culminated in the loss of singer, Dean Davidson.

As was the case for many artists of Britny Fox’s ilk, the 90s proved tumultuous, and eventually, Britny Fox folded, which opened the door for Johnny Dee to join the Metal Queen, Doro, a position Dee has held ever since.

These days, Dee resides in Germany with his family and continues to drum for both Doro, and a reformed, but not all together active, Britny Fox. Dee’s sticks still roll thunder, and his vigor for music, and the drums are as stout as ever.

We recently caught up with the venerable sticksman, and among other things, we dug into Johnny’s origins in music, joining Waysted, and subsequently Britny Fox, the rise and fall of Britny Fox during the 80s Hair Metal era, joining Doro, where things stand today for Britny Fox, and a whole lot more.

If you’re interested in learning more about Johnny Dee, you can follow him via Twitter and Instagram. And of course, don’t forget to keep up with the latest from Doro, and Britny Fox as well.

Andrew:
Johnny, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

Johnny:
Thanks, Andrew. I’ve been holding up well. I’ve been keeping busy with my little family, being a dad to my two-year-old son. That’s been my full-time gig, and the ability to be home with him every day has been a blessing.

In between that, I’ve been giving some drum lessons and playing some shows with Doro. Summer shows in ’20 and ’21 were outdoors, distanced, and following COVID protocols here in Germany. Early on, we did a few “drive-in” shows, which then evolved into the concept where fans had their own “Strandkorb,” which is a wicker “beach chair/basket,” which fits two people, and shields from the sun and strong winds and sand gusts typical at the North and Baltic seas. We did a Belgian festival in August ’21 (Alcatraz), and that was the first festival with a full crowd of about 20,000. Amazing atmosphere! In the fall, we started with some indoor shows, which were a bit more “normal.” We headlined in Austria, supported Michael Schenker in the UK, and finished the year with eight shows in Germany, and Switzerland.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

Johnny:
As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved music. As a typical kid, singing whatever was on the radio or TV, and in school as a choir member doing musicals and stuff. Later, being exposed to my older sister’s records, and as FM radio really started cooking, I got hooked on Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Andrew:
As a drummer, who were some of your early influences?

Johnny:
I remember seeing Buddy Rich many times on television and being blown away. Although I was a bit young to catch the moment that inspired so many musicians like The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I’ve always loved Ringo. I thought Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees, and Karen Carpenter were cool too. [Laughs]. When I started to really take notice and listen to records, it was Ian Paice, Neal Smith (Alice Cooper), Bonham, Moon, etc. KISS’ Alive! was my “Beatles moment” with Peter Criss! That phased into loving just about every drummer from every band I was a fan of, and a serious obsession with Neil Peart, Steve Smith, and a few others.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events first. You’ve been drumming for Doro Pesch since the mid-90s. Take me through how you first met Doro, and how you eventually got the gig.

Johnny:
I first met Doro in 1993, a few days before I had the chance to play with the band. After my friend Jimmy DiLella’s recommendation, she came to Philadelphia with her manager, and we got together in a rehearsal room. The vibes were good, and the music was sounding killer. At this time, the musicians were all American, and we all jelled together very well. And just like that, I was “in,” and shortly after, we were on tour, and recording the Doro Live album, and video in Germany. That was such an amazing experience and great memories.

Andrew:
When you first joined Doro, she was in a somewhat experimental phase, and like many of her contemporaries, was in a commercial downswing. Take me through what it was like in the 90s for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal veterans of the 70s and 80s glory days.

Johnny:
When it became apparent that the “older” sound and bands were “uncool,” many changed their look and started to go darker/heavier in hopes of blending in. Video, radio, labels, and the press made bands start to second-guess what they were doing, and it was a difficult, and confusing time for many. Some stuck it out and stayed the same, some folded, some evolved, but mostly, it would be some years before it was okay to be an “80s band” again.

For me, coming from the US in ’93, and joining Doro, I saw it a bit like a wave that didn’t really hit Europe as hard yet. Her Angels Never Die album was very “80s Rock,” and did really well for her in Germany, and drew great crowds on my first tour. I also saw many bands focus more on touring in Europe, and fans ate it up because they finally got more of what they may have missed in the 80s due to a lot of bands only touring in the USA.

Andrew:
In your opinion, did Grunge have as much of an effect as it’s perceived to have had on Heavy Metal? Even if it did sort of “kill Metal” for a time — were you a grunge fan? What are your thoughts on countless mainstream acts such as KISS, Mötley Crüe, and more “going Grunge” in the 90s?

Johnny:
Yes and no. Grunge was still mostly Heavy Rock. It took the sheen off and did away with the ridiculousness but it also took a lot of the fun out of it, and a lot of bitter and depressed folks had their time to shine. [Laughs]. I did like many of the bands, particularly Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, even though they ripped on Britny Fox in some of their earlier interviews. [Laughs]. I also liked Stone Temple Pilots and Nirvana.

As I said earlier, the bigger 80s acts were forced to go “grungy” to try to fit in. Which was kind of silly too. But their longtime fans did get some of their heaviest work out of the deal.

Andrew:
Going back to the 80s now, before your days in Britny Fox, and Doro, you were a member of Waysted. Waysted was very underrated. Save Your Prayers is a classic. Take me through your origins with the band.

Johnny:
I was a big UFO fan since seeing them in ’78 with Schenker. I loved the Chapman era as well. When Pete went solo with Waysted, they had a “Philly connection” with Ronnie Kayfield from the Philly ‘burbs on guitar. Barry Benedetta, who I had played with briefly, also joined for one tour, but neither of those guys had anything to do with getting me the gig. [Laughs]. 

One day, while reading Kerrang! Magazine, I saw that Paul Chapman was living in Florida, and looking for a rhythm guitarist and keyboardist for his new project. I knew the perfect guy was one of my best friends, Jimmy DiLella. So, I took the mag to show him, and he contacted Paul. Next thing you know, he was down there playing with him. That was a huge deal for all of us — someone got “in!” Eventually, Paul ran out of money, and went back to the UK to shop their demos, ran into Pete, and joined Waysted instead. Basically, he brought Jimmy in, and Jimmy later recommended me when the drum seat became vacant, following Andy Parker, Philty Animal Taylor, and Jerry Shirley. After my first gig showcasing for EMI, at the London Marquee, we all moved into a farmhouse in Wales and began writing, and recording demos for the Save Your Prayers record.

The same exact scenario led me into Doro some years later. It’s all Jimmy’s fault. [Laughs].

Andrew:
You joined Britny Fox after the unfortunate passing of Tony Destra. You had just gotten back into Philly when you hooked up with Britny Fox, right? Take me through you joining Britny Fox.

Johnny:
I was asked after Tony’s death, but the timing just wasn’t right. I was still with Waysted, and we were supporting Iron Maiden across the US and Canada. So another great friend, Adam “West” Ferraioli helped the band get back on its feet. After some time passed, and the band landed their deal with Columbia/CBS, I was asked again. At that time, Waysted ground to a halt in LA after firing Paul Chapman and losing their deal. We had auditioned a ton of guitarists, did a short club tour, and I was just very unsure of where things were headed. So, I took the opportunity to fly home and join Britny just as they were preparing to enter the studio and record the debut lp. 

Andrew:
The first two Britny Fox albums, Britny Fox, and Boys In Heat are classics of the Hair Metal era. This said, Britny Fox, even though you as a band seemed poised for mega-stardom, never quite got over the hump. Why do you ultimately feel that was the case?

Johnny:
We weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. We were a bit abrasive. [Laughs]. We took a lot of shit for the image, and we had a singer you either loved or hated. But, a huge reason to me was even though we had a ton of momentum, and video play, we were unable to get a big radio hit. We were an “MTV band,” and sold a shitload of records because of it, but we didn’t have the chart success to help back it up. Also, the label pulled us off the road with an album that had sold 800,000 copies to make another record. I’ll always believe we could have surpassed platinum had we done another video and gotten another big tour.

Unfortunately, a lot of it was also internal. Even though we had great musical chemistry, our personalities didn’t mesh, and we never communicated well. In the beginning, our momentum carried us through a lot of it, but as we got more successful, things escalated to the point of no return. It just became the three of us, or four including our manager, against Dean [Davidson], which led to him eventually quitting the band.

Andrew:
I know that Britny Fox was set to join KISS on their Hot In The Shade Tour, but you were bumped for Slaughter in the eleventh hour. How detrimental was that to the trajectory of Britny Fox? Can you tell us what happened there?

Johnny:
Losing that one really hurt our chances to re-connect with our MTV, and arena audience at the same level that we had been on with the debut lp.

While on tour in Europe with Alice Cooper, we got word that we were confirmed for the KISS tour in the US, and obviously, we were very excited. But not long after, we got word that the tour was being pushed back, and in the interim, Slaughter was blowing up, and KISS made the decision to take them instead.

So, we didn’t want to wait around while the record died, which it was doing anyway. We supported Joan Jett on a bunch of shows, which was great, but mostly, we were left to headline our own club tour. That was a huge blow, and magnified, even more, the struggles that we had during the recording of Boys In Heat. When we released the single “Dream On,” and finally started getting the radio play we never really had, it was a nice boost. Shows were getting booked for better money, and the video was doing well. However, Dean had already planned his exit, unbeknownst to us, and quit the band as we were starting the next leg of our tour.

Andrew:
Britny Fox’s two follow-up records, Bite Down Hard, and Springhead Motorshark are underrated gems. What are your thoughts on those records? Will we ever see another Britny Fox record?

Johnny:
Bite Down Hard was a special one, I’m very proud of that still. We brought Tommy [Paris] in, and all lived together for a while, getting to know each other while focusing on jamming, writing, and demoing new material. We proved that it wasn’t a one-man show and that we could still make a great album even though the singer and main songwriter bailed.

Springhead Motrshark came much later, and we had ceased operating as a band. We set up a makeshift studio in my house, and the guys did most of the recording while I was on tour with Doro. I recorded drums last which was bizarre at that time. It was more or less Michael [Kelly Smith], and Tommy’s thing.

As for another record, it looks highly unlikely, although I would certainly be up for it. I think we had one or two songs in the works on our last get-together in 2016, but that quickly fell apart.

Andrew:
Much is made of the 1980s golden age of Hair Metal and Glam Rock. Looking back, was it as crazy as it seemed? What was your experience like?

Johnny:
Yes, it was. And the bigger the band, the more insane it was…we’ve all heard the stories. I’ve done some crazy shit, and a lot of it I can’t even remember. Thankfully, I never got too caught up in the dangerous stuff.

Andrew:
Easy one’s now. What are a few of your favorite albums, and why?

Johnny:
It’s impossible to name a few, but to this day, many of them are from the beginning and are records that made a huge impact on me at a young age. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, KiISS’ Alive!, any Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple’s Machine Head, Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me… and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Pink Floyd’s Animals, Van Halen’s debut, Iron Maiden’s Number Of The Beast. Shall I keep going? [Laughs].

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Johnny:
I love traveling, meeting people, and new experiences. I love drawing, painting, computer graphics, photography, nature, hiking, mountain biking, cooking, and watching a good documentary. I also enjoy driving a fast German car on the Autobahn. [Laughs].

Andrew:
What sort of equipment do you use in the studio, and the live setting?

Johnny:
I use DW Drums, Paiste Cymbals, Vater Drumsticks, Evans Drumheads…all companies I’ve been with for years, and that have supported me big time. I also use Porter & Davies Tactile Monitoring, which is built into a drum throne, various Roland stuff, and Sky Percussion from Germany.

The live setup can change from time to time, for example, to adjust for certain songs added to the show or types of venues. I tend to love big, loud crash cymbals, but in smaller venues, they can over-power the stage sound, and bleed into vocal mics, etc., along with making the soundman’s hair go even more white. [Laughs]. So, I might change out to some smaller, or less aggressive cymbals. I also switch from a two bass drum kit to a single kick sometimes, depending on the band, or what’s needed.

On fly dates and festivals where we use a rental backline, I try to get as close to my normal setup as possible, but we may not get it exactly. We just improvise and make the best of it.

Image credit: John-son

Andrew:
Do you collect vinyl? CDs? Cassettes? Or are you all digital now? If you do collect physical media, why is that important to you? Why do you feel keeping physical media alive is important in this day, and age?

Johnny:
I do have issues with throwing things away. Does that make me a collector or a hoarder? [Laughs]. I have vinyl, CDs, and cassettes from way back in the day, but not much by way of new.

Most of the reason for me has been the transient lifestyle and having to scale down. I really miss listening to records in one setting, while enjoying the physical product in your hands, reading the lyrics and credits, looking at artwork, and photos. Part of it is a lack of time, but I think it’s very important to keep it alive for the younger generations. Even the CD format on a killer system is way better than invisible music through earbuds.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next for both Britny Fox and Doro?

Johnny:
Doro continues to create music, release new merch, and play as much as possible during this strange era we’re living in. The last release is the live recording of the Warlock album, Triumph And Agony, during the thirtieth-anniversary concerts that we did. There are new songs in the works now, and we should be tracking instruments later for the next release. We’ll finally do a few shows in America again starting with the M3 festival in May. Then, some European headline shows and festivals for the rest of 2022.

As for Britny, unfortunately, I have nothing to report at this time. I was hoping we could at least do a few shows with the original lineup but that continues to be impossible.

Interested in learning more about Doro & Britny Fox? Check out the links below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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