Neil Sharpe is a SOTW Contributing Editor, and has extensive experience with the emotional and psychological aspects of performance, health, and well being.
He is the author and co-author of three professional texts and numerous peer reviewed papers. Neil and his sax have terrified the unsuspecting since the 1950's.
For too many talented saxophonists in blues, r&b, and rock, these lyrics define
their careers. It takes a lot of hard work to be an
“overnight success”. And “success” is usually reserved for those who are
lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and have the vision,
drive, and dedication to take advantage of it.
From traveling the frozen winter hinterlands of Canada doing 300 plus gigs a year, to
being featured on Billboard Top Ten hits and CD’s winning gold and platinum status,
Johnny Ferreira has cut his own distinct musical path. He’s done it by staying true
to the music he loves best- rock n’ roll.
have to love what you’re doing. Playing blues, r&b, and rock n’ roll
isn’t a recipe for getting rich quick. Although I know that many musicians
have struggled, I can only tell you what it's been
like for myself. You have to be stubborn and stick to it and look for
that break that will make all the difference. That’s what happened to me, and
here I am all those years later.”
isn’t too bad for a musician whose first choice was accordion and later the
piano and organ. He didn’t even pick up a sax until he was seventeen. “The
sound- that’s what first attracted me to the sax. As a teenager, I listened to
local FM rock/contemporary radio. This was in the 1970's. I heard a lot of
Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, Supertramp, and my favorite,
Edgar Winter (especially his solo on ‘Easy Street’- I still play it on
gigs). He was a bit of an influence on me because of his well-rounded musical
talents- composer, vocalist, keyboardist, and superb saxophonist. Even though I
was into tenor, Edgar's tone on alto was big and gutsy. The albums ‘White
Trash’ and ‘Roadwork’ were on my stereo almost every day. They had a horn
section too, and another great sax player in Jerry Lacroix who was as good a
rock singer as Edgar.
Then, I got into bands like
Tower of Power; their horn
section just blew me away. Another altoist was Earl Bostic, but he goes back a
bit further to the 50's. These are my two favorite alto players for the big
tone. Actually, I'd also have to put Louis Jordan in this category and
Cannonball Adderley for his sweet tone and dexterity. As for tenor, King Curtis
was a big influence. For example, he does ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle’
[this link provides a sound clip; scroll down to the bottom of the page] with Al
Caiola that is a simple, 12 bar blues, but his tone and playing is amazing; same
thing with his song ‘Soul Twist’.”
“When I was just starting to play, I would just try and learn the licks I liked and
incorporate them into my playing. BUT, then I started studying with a much more
advanced player, and he pointed out several mistakes I was making,
like breathing and tonguing. When you're
starting out, it's easy to develop bad habits if you don't get the proper guidance."
"I can’t say that I was really interested in the technical side of music and
theory, but went through it and would recommend it to young players. You need
that core knowledge, that vocabulary. Transcribing songs and solos in written
form is also a good foundation because as you write it down, you’re learning
it better. You have to figure it out and understand it to the point that
you’re almost singing that song without having to look at the notes. That’s
important because the sax is the instrument that sounds closest to the human
voice and can really touch and affect people.”
As a teenager, Johnny ran head on into people “who wanted you to be a plumber or
a mechanic or whatever and had that attitude that if you didn’t follow their
suggestions, what would you have to fall back on? I hate that line, because you
only need something to fall back on if you plan on falling back. I never thought
of getting into something and 'falling back.' I always go forward."
high school, John went to Capilano College in
Vancouver and studied music. After a summer of great gigs and good times, he
dropped out of school the following year; the money wasn’t great but it was
steady. He returned to school the next year and later graduated with a music
degree from the University of British Columbia.
John’s talent for the sax hadn’t gone noticed; he soon was asked to sit in on session
“It was 1980 for me in Vancouver, and I was studying music at
Capilano College. A well known band called
Pointed Sticks' had just returned from London England after recording a record for Stiff records (Elvis Costello was their big artist
at the time). The sessions didn't go too well, and the band almost broke up
over it. Their manager Steve
Macklam (who later became Colin James' manager and is now managing Dianna Krall, Norah Jones, The Tragically Hip, and
Elvis Costello) convinced them to record the songs over again in Vancouver, this time with
producer Bob Rock. Their guitar player was going to Capilano College with me, so I was asked to play some sax on these new sessions which turned out
great. When the recording was done, they asked me to join the group, and we
toured Canada for another year and a half before the final break up. I then started hanging out with
Brian MacLeod who was part of the band
who'd enjoyed a long run of successful singles and albums throughout the 70's,
including the hit single "Crazy Talk". Brian decided to form another
band called the ‘Headpins’
who started to achieve some commercial success. Brian brought me in to record with them, and later with the punk band
DOA and others.”
always regarded going into the recording studio as a very special experience.
Being in a well controlled environment and working with very capable
professionals such as engineers, producers, and musicians, tends to bring out
the best in a person. If you get called into a recording session, it's because someone is a fan of your playing
style so they already like you. Your job is to find out what they need from you.
You're there to make their song sound better, so just try and do what it needs,
not what you need. You're there for them, not for you."
In 1985-86, I started hanging out with this great guitarist/singer Colin
James, jamming at a couple of clubs. After unsuccessfully trying to get a blues
band going in his home province of Saskatchewan, Colin had moved to Vancouver from Regina, and had just
spent two months on the road with Stevie Ray
Vaughan. The first few months, we played a lot of different stuff, mostly rocking blues and swing, but Colin was
trying to write some songs. One of the first was ‘Five
Thanks to this song, their lives would never be the same.
Colin James signed up with K.D. Lang’s manager Larry Wanagas, and
subsequently released a 12" single with “Five Long Years” on the A-side
and a Morgan Davis tune “Why'd You Lie?” on the flipside. Released on the
Bumstead Records label, “Five Long Years” immediately drew strong chart play
on college radio in the U.S. and Canada.
To promote the single, the “Colin James Band” was born with Johnny Ferreira on
sax and keyboards, Rick Hopkins (keyboards), Darrell Mayes (drums), and Mark
Weston (bass) -They hit the road, touring incessantly, with breaks few and far
kind of funny how I worked into Colin’s new band. Since ‘Five Long Years’
wasn't a blues tune, I played keyboards on it. One day at a club in Regina, we
were setting up and the stage was too small to set up all our gear, so my
keyboards had to go. I felt a little strange, because for songs I didn't play sax
on, I usually would be on the keys and that night I wouldn't have them. As the night
went on, I started to feel more and more comfortable just being on the sax all
the time. I got so into this, that after that night I never set up the keyboards
again. Over the years, I really learned how to blend in.”
have to pick your spots, know when to blow and when to lay back. If you're
playing next to someone who is a lead singer and lead guitarist, and you play
all over the place, you won't last long in the band. There’s a fine line when you’re playing with a guitar player/singer, so the sax
can’t be lead all the time. Just do a solo every couple of songs and figure out how to blend in. Colin was always very cool with
all of this. I gained a lot from performing with him and the people we toured with. It smartened me up and matured me as well. If you're a sax player and
you're jamming on stage with another sax player and it's time for a solo, let him take it. This sounds like a little thing, but it's amazing how many Bogart's
are out there. Nothing worst than a solo hog! If you give the audience a nice little cherry now and then, they’ll keep picking those cherries all night
long! Even on my CDs, there are some songs I don’t play that much on. There are players out there whose playing is fine, but their social graces are poor,
such as playing over the singer or a guitar solo. I can’t believe that they actually do that; that’s the opposite of what you should do, stepping
on someone’s toes. When you’re in a band, you’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for someone else. If you never shut up, after a while
no one will want to hear you”.
“We were playing 300 gigs a year. Every month, the manager would hand us the
itinerary. Sometimes, it seemed like we were playing every little town on the
map, including towns that weren’t on the map and that no one had ever heard
of! By 1988 –89, we’d recorded our first album for Virgin records in America. It was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami,
Florida with the legendary producer Tom Dowd
(who also had recorded John Coltrane and King Curtis) and finished in Los Angeles with
Tom Dowd during the production of the first album
It became the fastest-selling album in Canadian history.
Another single off the album, “Voodoo Thing”, reached #30 on the
“Mainstream Rock Charts” of Billboard. Thom Omens of the All Music Guide,
writing for Billboard, described the album as “an impressive collection of
high-octane blues-rock that, at its best, explodes with the intensity of a keg
But why just read about it? Click below for a short video clip of Johnny and Colin James
playing live at Fort Lauderdale, U.S.A.
That's when Keith Richards, Robert Plant, and ZZ Top came a' calling...