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Neil Sharpe

Neil Sharpe is a Sax on the Web Contributing Editor with an 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.

More articles by Neil Sharpe:

o Anxiety, Emotions and Performing Well 1, 2, 3
o John Barrow; How NOT To Make It In The Pop World
o Jazz and The Touch of Zen: Ken Fornetran
o Jon R. Smith: Interview Part 1: White Trash, Michael Brecker, Philip Glass
o Jon R. Smith: Interview Part 2: Albert Collins, Peter Maffay, Toto, and The Business of Music
o SOTW Rock n' Roll Resources, contributing editor.
o New Orleans
o Ride The Wild Wind
o Tipitina's, Tall Ships, and Horses in the Lobby

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About Sax on the Web

Sax on the Web (SOTW) is a comprehensive saxophone site founded by Harri Rautiainen.
It covers many aspects of saxophone and saxophone playing in articles written by several experts. An integral part is the SOTW Forum with 30,000 registered members from beginners to prominent players and trade specialists.

Created: January 11, 2007
Update: June 27, 2015

prev  Johnny Ferreira, Interview Part Two


In Sax on the Web Rock & Roll Series:


Johnny Ferreira: Rock n' Roll Saxophonist

Part 1

An Interview by Neil Sharpe



Johnny Ferreira and Colin James

Part One: All Night Long

I’ve been twenty two years in a rock ‘n roll band… and all I got to show is a hole in my hand, where my money has burned me through. I’ve had enough of getting shot in the head.”

Savoy Brown
“Shot In The Head”

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.

“You 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.”

Which 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."

After 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 work.

“It was 1980 for me in Vancouver, and I was studying music at Capilano College. A well known band called 'The 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 'Chilliwack', 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.”

“I’ve 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 Long Years’.”

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 between.

“It's 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.”

“You 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 Danny Kortchmar.”


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 of dynamite”.

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...

Johnny Ferreira interview Part 2 next

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