Wachteligence: Jon Butcher is Red Hot And Blue

By A.J. Wachtel
July 2010

On and off the stage, Jon Butcher has always stood apart from the crowd. His electric shows in the 80's drew worldwide attention to the Boston music community and his charismatic, larger-than-life persona got him noticed by everyone and copied by all guitarists on the scene. To this day, his love and respect for the blues is evident in every note he plays. Read the following to learn why Jon has returned to Boston and what he plans to unleash on old fans and new audiences in the 21st century.

AJ Wachtel: I saw Jon Butcher Axis open for Johnny Winter at Uncle Sam's in Hull many moons ago. In your set you played a killer version of “Red House.” Jon playing Jimi playing B.B. Why was this song always in your set and what was your relationship with blues in those days?

Jon Butcher: I've had a special connection to “Red House” ever since I saw Jimi do it at The Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA as a kid. I snuck into the venue as an underage teenager (14 or 15 years old) and it had a profound impact on me—me and about 10,000,000 other blossoming strato-slingers. (laughs)

AJ: Who are some of your blues and R&B influences?

JB: Albert King. B.B. King. Elmore James. Mississippi Fred McDowell. Muddy. Freddie King. Howlin Wolf and possibly my favorite: Taj Mahal. I've played with B.B. King and have met Taj as well although I doubt he'd remember it. To say these gentlemen were/are giants isn't high enough praise. I also loved brother Ray Charles, arguably the greatest R&B singer there ever was. Love me some Brother Ray.

AJ: Name some of the blues and R&B artists you've performed with or have opened for.

JB: I've had several close encounters with B.B King and have also worked with John Mayall, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy, The Allman Brothers, George Thorogood, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Gary Moore, just to name a few. Recently, I've had the distinct pleasure to share the stage with one of my all-time heroes, James Cotton for the Legends of The Blues Concert Series with James Montgomery. James Montgomery is a national treasure in his own right and I'd travel anywhere and walk over hot coals to work with James.

AJ: You compose soundtracks these days. Do blues and R&B sell in soundtracks today? Is there an audience for it?

strong>JB: Blues and R&B never go out of style as music forms. There's always a market and interest by music supervisors for blues in tv productions, feature film and even car commercials. Take it from me, I know.

AJ: You recently performed locally with James Montgomery and you were onstage with local legend Johnny A (The Bobby Whitlock Band) also. What songs did you play together?

JB: As I mentioned, prior to the Legends of The Blues Concert Series spearheaded by James Montgomery featured James Cotton and provided an opportunity to play with my longtime friend Johnny A. Johnny and I go way back to college days and I'm very proud to see him doing so well now. As for songs, we did a few of my favorites at the event: “Red House,” “Before You Accuse Me (Take A Look At Yourself),” and a great Willie Dixon song, “My Babe.”

AJ: Any great stories involving the local blues and R&B scene you want to share?

JB: I watched Johnny Winter completely blow the roof off of Uncle Sam's back in the late '70's. Really, such a powerful performance that me and every other guitar player in attendence were awed, dumbstruck, killed, made mute. There is no one better at electric slide guitar than Johnny Winter, and I've seen some mean cutters in my day. But Johnny Winter? He scared me.

AJ: What great blues and R&B shows have you seen in the Boston area over the years?

JB: That's an impossible question to answer completely since I've seen such great blues performed in Boston. But if pressed I'd have to say the mighty J.Geils Band may have been the best and hardest rocking “blues” outfit I've ever witnessed in Boston. It's hard to beat three sold out nights at the old Boston Garden opening up for the most dynamic live band ever to “woofa-goofa.” (laughs)

AJ: You live in California now. What's the difference between music scenes on each coast?

JB: First, I'm presently re-located to Boston—been living here now for eight weeks after being gone for about 20 years. There was no greater music scene than Boston's during the 70's/80's, and you could say that Boston still has more to offer per square inch then anywhere else.

AJ: Any advice to young musicians on how to get their music heard?

JB: No simple answer. On the minus side there are a lot less places to play, less clubs that support (i.e. pay for) live music. Too, getting people to come out of their houses has never been more difficult—you're up against HBO and Xbox and finding parking. It's expensive to go out and hard to face an 8 am straight gig the following morning. That's the bad news. The good news is it's never been easier for a new artist to self-promote: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Going, Reverb Nation, Buzznet, MOG, to name a few. This means you have exponentially better to make contact with and establish fans.

AJ: You now have a project with Charlie Farren (Balloon, The Joe Perry Project, Farrenheit). What's the story behind this?

JB: Charlie and I have known each other since we were both about 19 or 20, both trying to launch bands out of Boston. We were both in similar roles as lead singers, guitarists, band leaders. We'd check each other and generally enjoy a friendly competitiveness for me Jon Butcher Axis and for Charlie The Joe Perry Project. When I relocated to L.A. we kept in touch and I think we both thought that we might collaborate when the timing was right one day. That day arrived in March of this year.

AJ: Who do you listen to these days? Any special blues or R&B artists we should be hearing?

JB: Nah, I listen to everything. I know a lot of people say that, but for me it's true. I don't focus on any one style of music when it comes to listening time 'cause I'm fickle. (laughs) Lately? Jeff Beck's newest.

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