By Randi Somers
Rhythm of the North, featuring Johnny B. on piano, is a multi-media event at Pier One Theatre beginning on Thursday.
Johnny Bushell’s performance will be accented with Alaska wildlife video images by Daniel Zatz, as well as still photos by Brad Lewis.
Bushell composed and orchestrated the music for one of Zatz’s award-winning videos some time ago. He will perform his original songs, many of which he wrote last winter, July 4 and 5, and then on Wednesday evenings, July 10, 24, 31 and Aug. 7.
Starting with the “Gettin’ Home Boogie” the program will include “McDoogan’s Blues,” a classical “Where Polar Bear,” “New York Dayz,” “Bay of Fundy,” Little Brother/Flyers,” “The Alaska Diet Plan,” and “Squito Boogie,” “Running Round in Circles” and “Friends,” which expresses his appreciation of his Alaska friends, dedicated to the family of a friend who recently died.
His “Let Go” is one of his most recent, he said, and deals with being true to one’s emotions. His “Patchwork,” accompanied by one of Zatz’s videos, portrays Alaskan vistas from the “eyes of an eagle.” He concludes his performance with his signature, “Five Finger Boogie.”
He said this past winter was his most productive song-writing period. “It was a tough winter and my outlet was writing. Things just flowed.”
He deftly creates a full band effect by rhythmically tapping two keys with staccato notes, which are recorded, and instantaneously, the once chiming interplay of the keyboard has transformed into a snare drum, beating a theme which runs through the song. The finished product is a sleek opus which sees his “boogie-woogie” piano fulfilling the orchestral roles of strings, wind, and percussion, all at the same time. The pianist becomes a one-man band, composer and symphony hall company as the disparate segments are woven into a lyrical whole.
Bushell exudes such energy, it’s kind of like dancing sitting down. His rhythm activates his hands, feet and whole body.
This energy is generated by his highly personal style of music which he describes as “boogie-woogie, some jazz and a little bit of rock-and-roll.” He has gained a reputation as a free spirit, freewheeling entertainer generating an infectious feel-good atmosphere.
Bushell started out playing wooden blocks in Oakland, Calif. in 1956 as a child, and soon moved on to the piano. Graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1979, he put his piano in the back of a van and traveled all 50 states as a street musician. His first engagement in Alaska was the Talkeetna Moose Dropping Festival in 1981 where he met his future wife, Sharon.
In 1983 and 1984 an Alaska Council on the Arts grant funded his travels to perform in 40 villages throughout Alaska. Those travels brought him to Seldovia and Nanwalek, and then he was hired in Homer to work in the schools, teaching and inspiring students with his music.
By that time, he and Sharon had two children who also turned out to be creative. Their daughter Libby Veasey started the HoWL program in Homer and still runs it. Their son Sam is a musician with the Fairbanks Community Jazz Band.
In 1990, Johnny B. and Tom Bodett were engaged to do a National Public Radio show, “The End of the Road.”
Bushell has performed for 28 years in Homer and he said he is thinking of going back on the road again.
All of the shows start at 7:30 p.m. at Pier One Theatre on the Spit. General admission is $15 with discounts for seniors, students and Ravens (members of Pier One Theatre) as usual. Advance ticket are available at the Homer Bookstore. Reservations at 235-7333.
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