An Interview With Will Johns of Cloud 9 & The Music Of Cream

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Read Time:10 Minute, 12 Second

Born to actress Paula Boyd and record producer, Andy Johns, Will Johns has been surrounded by music his whole life, and he carries the torch having played alongside his uncle Eric Clapton, and many other prominent names in the industry with Cloud9, Will Johns Band, and The Music of Cream.

In this interview, among other things, Will, and I chat about Will’s musical origins, what he’s been up to during the COVID-19 pandemic, his work with Cloud 9, the Will Johns Band, carrying on the legacy of Cream with Kofi Baker, what equipment he uses, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to learn more about Will Johns, or The Music Of Cream, check out their web pages, and dig in. Enjoy this chat with the one, and only Will Johns.

Anthony:
Will, thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview, it’s great to have you with us. How have you been these past couple of years?

Will:
Wow! Thank you for having me! It has been the craziest time I have ever known in my life! I have been on such a rollercoaster of ups and downs it is hard to know where to even begin! I lost everything and died several times…

Anthony:
Let’s start this off easy, you were born in London and started playing guitar at an early age. What was your musical upbringing?

Will:
Yes, that is right, my Dad, Andy was a record producer and Engineer so my earliest memories are of being in the recording studio with the smell of new musical equipment and electricity. I spent a lot of time when I was young visiting my aunty Pattie and uncle Eric (Clapton) at weekends and holidays. My Dad, Andy, bought me my first guitar which was a seafoam green Stratocaster. I wish I still had it!

Anthony:
What prompted guitar over other instruments? Did you play others and guitar just stuck with you?

Will:
I think I started out playing the drums. There was a studio in Eric’s basement with a drum kit, and I used to put the ghetto blaster on full blast with ZZ Top’s Eliminator, and wail on the drums. Eric came down one morning and suggested I learn to play a “real” musical instrument…the rest is history.

Anthony:
Can you take me through the formation of Cloud 9and what led up to its formation?

Will:
I escaped the London rave scene of the early 90s and moved to Oxford to go to College. In the little village of Bampton, I met Dave Motion, an amazing guitarist and songwriter, and we forged a friendship and musical partnership that became Cloud 9. We also lived at number 9 Bicester Road, in Kidlington, ’round the corner from Sir Richard Branson.

Anthony:
Followed by Cloud 9, you formed the Will Johns Band, in 2008, and released your first album shortly thereafter, and then two more over the course of eight years. Can you tell us about the recording process?

Will:
The first Album, Count On Me, was co-produced by Tramper Price. Quite a stop-start process with most of the parts being played and sung but Tramper and myself. I had an idea that it was a message to my wife to be Lucy as she just had my son Charlie. The most celebrated track was “On My Back,” which won numerous nominations in the British Blues Awards and also had a really funny and overwhelmingly popular YouTube video which has since been banned and removed. In 2012 I released Hooks & Lines, the front cover of which had been bursting out of the sea naked with a guitar, and represented my departure from working in the UK charter fishing industry. And not a moment too soon as my hands were in constant danger from the knives and massive hooks. This was recorded with the band live in the studio and once again tracks “Kissing You,” and “Never Rains” were nominated for Blues Awards. Next came Something Old, Something New. This album was mostly recorded on my laptop using Garage Band. Only the Vocals were recorded in Brighton Electric Studios. This album was intended to be quite contemporary sounding and dancey. I am most proud of the track “Mousetails,” which was inspired by recent trips to Russia where I learned that in days gone by, poor people were left to eat “Mousetails, sawdust, and chickenshit” if they were lucky. “Righteous Road” is a good example of something old as it was a co-write with Dave Motion from the Cloud 9 days.

Anthony:
Is it safe to say that your close connection to Cream has influenced a lot of your music stylings when it comes to the Blues?


Will:
Yes and no and yes! I am hugely influenced by that high octane, over-driven British Blues sound but equally influenced by my beloved BB King, who I love, adore, and try to emulate where ever possible.

Anthony:
Who are your main influences both vocally, and instrumentally?

Will:
Well, obviously, no matter how I try not to be, I am influenced by Eric Clapton. I love BB King, and like I have already mentioned, I try to emulate his vocal style. Instrumentally, and most particularly, in my slide guitar work, Ry Cooder has been hugely influential.

Anthony:
It looks like you’ve been busy with the release of Bluesdaddy, and doing some shows to support it. Can you talk a bit about the album?

Will:
My friend Richard Newman, who is a writer, broadcaster, guitarist, and Blues historian suggested I make a “Blues Album.” I think he intended me to put myself on the map alongside other great British Blues guitarists. Although I wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea of “trying to blow everyone away,” I was up for producing an album that I felt showcased my love, and respect for the genre. I had played most of these songs with musicians around the globe, and so, I felt it was a good idea to get them down in an honest and simple way. All the tracks are Blues classics from the likes of BB King, Willie Dixon, Peter Green, etc barre one, the title track “Bluesdaddy.” I wrote this one as a simple prayer on a cheap plywood guitar that used to hang on the wall in a Blues Bar in my hometown of Brighton. The guitar itself was bashed up, and the strings were old and rusty, but with a big brass slide, it had this authenticity about it which inspired the words about a “Daddy” (me!), who plays the Blues at home, and when he is away, at night time and during the day.

Anthony:
What are some of your favorite memories of touring, and being on the road? Favorite locations, people you’ve played with, and places you got to see?
 
Will:
Ahhh! there are so many! I’m really lucky to have an amazing touring family, and we all look out for each other and have a laugh. I really liked San Juan Capistrano, the lovely marina there. I’m really happy anywhere there is some sea or water and a chance to do some fishing! Florida is fun for that, but then the striper fishing in the Hudson River was cool too! A memorable performance was with Tony Wilson, “The Young James Brown,” he was backflipping across the stage whilst we played “I Feel Good.”

Anthony:
Can you take us a bit through the formation of The Music of Cream?

Will:
Well, it was our Manager Simon’s idea. Kofi had been playing this music for a while since the Cream reunion gigs in 2005. Simon reached out to Kofi, and we first toured Australia, and New Zealand with Glenn Hughes, and Robben Ford.

Anthony:
It’s amazing that you’re keeping the music of Cream alive. They’re definitely a product of their time when the 60s was rife with Psych-Rock and Acid-Rock here in the states. Do you feel the music would’ve hit differently if they formed just a few years later?

Will:
To be honest, I have no idea! What kind of music do you think Jimi Hendrix would be producing now?

Images courtesy of GHT Communications

Anthony:
How do you feel about the perception of Psych-Rock in today’s music scene? It seems to be pretty niche these days but still has its place in the scene.

Will:
Once again, I’m not sure I have any feelings about it as such. I think either you are stuck in the past, and things are how they were, and shall evermore be that way. Or, there is the progression to the now where we see people like John Mayer performing with the Grateful Dead, and the most wonderful Billy Strings, who seems to be setting things alight across the world right now with his new Psychedelic Bluegrass sound. Can you tell I am a HUGE fan?? I’d like to go fishing with Billy too!

Anthony:
Speaking of touring, you’re about to get ready for a Music of Cream tour in 2022. How excited are you?

Will:
Yessir! Well, after ALL, we’ve been through, I cannot wait to get back on my horse, and ride out!! I nearly died from pneumonia during the height of the pandemic, and so, I stopped smoking. I feel my singing voice has greatly improved, and I definitely have more lung capacity, so, I am soo excited to perform these songs with Kofi, and the guys again. We will also be performing Clapton Classics, including “Wonderful Tonight,” “Layla,” “Cocaine,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” and more! 

Anthony:
You were part of a Ginger Baker tribute concert with Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Roger Waters, and more. What was that experience like?

Will:
Like nothing I have ever experienced. It was like a dream. A dream come true. Such an honor to be on stage with Eric, Ronnie, Roger, Steve Winwood, Paul Carrack, and all the other incredible musicians. What an amazing tribute to Ginger it was, and Kofi, bless him, played a wonderful solo full of energy, and passion.

Images courtesy of GHT Communications

Anthony:
Here’s one of my favorites to ask — what equipment do you work with? Does it differ from what you record with, and play live?

Will:
My three main guitars are:
1) Red Ernie Ball Musician Eddie Van Halen 1992  
2) Purple EVH Wolfgang 2017
3) Cherry Gibson ES 335

I had to leave these in Chicago at the start of Lockdown 1, so, I recorded Bluesdaddy with my White 2000 Corona Telecaster and my Black Squier Telecaster Custom. Regarding Amps, I use a Mad Professor 51RT for live work in the US, and a Peavey Delta Blues 2×10 in the UK, and also recorded Bluesdaddy with the Peavey Delta Blues. Pedals for both live, and recording are Jim Dunlop Wah Wah, Sweet Honey Overdrive by Mad Professor, Electric Blue Chorus by Mad Professor, Boss Digital Delay, and Boss Tuner. Simple stuff really!

Anthony:
Who are some of your favorite artists, and albums? Do you collect any vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and such?

Will:
I don’t actually collect any physical copies, but here are some of my favorites in no particular order:
Ry Cooder — Get Rhythm 
BB King — Live at The Regal
Little Village — Little Village
Bob Marley — Exodus
Digable Planets — Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
Jay Owens — Movin’ On
Jay Owens — The Blues Soul of Jay Owens
Stevie Watts Organ Trio — Mission To The Moon
Gnarls Barkley — St. Elsewhere
Cream — Disraeli Gears
Eric Clapton — August, Behind The Sun, and Journeyman.

Anthony:
That’s just about everything! Thank you so much for your time in doing this with us!
Will:
Thanks for having me!

Images courtesy of GHT Communications

Interested in learning more about the work of Will Johns? Check out the link below:

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
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