Will Johns: The ClassicRockHistory.Com Interview

Will Johns: The ClassicRockHistory.Com Interview

Feature Photo: Courtney of Case Basket Comms

As the song of acclaimed producer Andy Johns and the nephew of legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, you could say that Will Johns was born to play music.

Indeed, for Johns, there was never a path forward that didn’t involve washes of creativity through a distinct yet tried and true blend of rock and blues music. Though his earliest musings came by way of a drum kit, fate intervened, and like his uncle before him, John’s set forth on a path defined via six strings and an amp.

And though his influences are different from his father and uncles, the result is not entirely dissimilar, with Johns ultimately settling in as one of the more prominent Bluesbreakers of his era, albeit with a modern flair. With an Ernie Ball Music Man in hand and influences ranging from the Beastie Boys to B.B. King, Johns’ singular take on the blues is like no other.

But none of that has kept the bruising axe-slinger from paying homage to the past as he pays tribute to his uncle’s music with The Cream of Clapton Band. Sure, Johns has paid tribute to Cream and Eric Clapton with the likes of Kofi Baker, but this time, Johns is taking a more straight-ahead and focused approach, yielding sublime results.

With a busy 2023 ahead, Will Johns logged on with ClassicRockHistory.com to speak on his origins with the guitar, his love for the blues, the influence of Eric Clapton on his style, and what’s next for him as he moves forward.

This may be an obvious question, but what first sparked your interest in the guitar? 

Yes, I am afraid the obvious answer is my Uncle Eric [Clapton], who was not only an inspiration but was also a father figure in my unstable upbringing. I used to play the drum kit in the studio under his house, but one morning – I think it was about 6 am – he suggested I learn to play a “proper musical instrument.” The rest is history.

Beyond your uncle, who were some of your biggest influences that shaped your sound?

My Mum’s cassettes, Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, and Irish rebel music. I was a huge Michael Jackson Fan at age 10. Then, Phil Collins. My first CDs were The Beastie Boys, Bryan Adams, Huey Lewis, and The Cream of Eric Clapton greatest hits album. When I started playing guitar, it was Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Big Bill Broonzy. Later, Jamiroquai and B.B. King, and then more B.B. King, and then more B.B. King! [Laughs]. After half learning how to play fast, my playing evolved to finding that one bend or phrase, or note that would pull on the audience’s heartstrings.

How important were the blues to you as a youngster?

My dad, Andy Johns, was a hard rock producer for the likes of Van Halen, Cinderella, etc., so I always thought of rock as “his” music. My First real experience of what I would term “true” blues music was Big Bill Broonzy at age 13-ish. I liked the double entendres and the sexy, naughty lyrics disguised in the everyday talk about Bull’s horns, lemon juice, etc. Later, Taj Mahal captured my imagination with his laid-back vibe.

How did your uncle, Eric Clapton, alter your perception of what guitar music could be?

As I went into my teens, I became acutely aware that if you played guitar well, you might drive a Ferrari, have a few quid, and get lots of attention from pretty girls. This appealed to me, and I imagined trying to learn everything I could by example and emulating sounds on my stereo. Having said that, it was Ry Cooder who completely electrified my brain. Eric played me his 1987 album, Get Rhythm, and the opening riff on “All Shook Up” altered my perception completely.

How do you define the importance of Cream in your life and rock music?

As I mentioned, one of my first CDs at age 14 was The Cream of Eric Clapton, I played along to the Cream tracks, and that became a part of my playing. It was not until 2013 that I really tuned into the band and learned more of their songs after being asked to join a cover band that played only Cream. Cream was unbelievably instrumental in popular rock music and defined the genre at a particular moment in history.

Would the idea of power trios and blues-oriented rock music be the same without Eric and Cream?

In a nutshell, no! In my opinion, it is kind of like saying would the human eye be the same without millions of years of evolution from fish to the first mammal?

Tell me about your latest project, The Cream of Clapton Band.

The Cream of Clapton Band was born out of The Music of Cream, which I had been involved with since 2017. The Cream of Clapton Band came together with the help of our manager, Simon Roberts. He and I shared a vision of a great, fun band of talented and dedicated musicians that could perform on the highest level and revisit the most significant and exciting era of the Clapton legacy, namely the “Heaven Band” of the late ’80s, featuring Greg Phillinganes, Phil Collins, Nathan East, and Eric.

You’ve celebrated the music of Cream before; what makes this project different?

Professional musicians that are nice to be around, well-rounded, and dedicated to the music. This project focuses more on the songs, not extended “spaced-out” jams and lengthy drum solos. We will be playing the classics like “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight,” some of the Cream numbers, and then the very uplifting and dance tunes from the albums, Behind the Sun, August, and Journeyman.

Are there any plans to work with Kofi Baker again in celebrating the music of Cream, or has that ship sailed?

That ship has disappeared over the horizon. I would not be interested in that at all.

What gear, pedals, effects, and amps are you using on this tour, and what goes into that choice?

My guitars are Ernie Ball Musicman Van Halen and EVH Wolfgang Standard. For effects, I go with a Jim Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, Mad Professor Sweet Honey Delux Overdrive, Mad Professor ElectricBlue Chorus, Octave, and Boss DD3 Digital Delay. I will be using a hired Peavey Classic until I can reconnect with my lovely Mad Professor Old School 51 RT Combo! Why? The guitars are my personal idea of playability and excellence and personify the pinnacle of the electric guitar’s evolution. The pedals and amp represent the best I have personally played.

What’s your secret to good blues guitar?

A tasteful combination of lightning and feel. Confronting the complexity of the mind with the simplicity of the heart. One note played right to make the hairs on your arms stand on end.

Do you plan to continue your solo work outside of this project? What’s next?

Yes! I am currently working on my 5th solo album, titled Yin & Yang. It is a collection of my own original compositions and has a contemporary feel. It will be completely opposite to my last album, Bluesdaddy, which was all classic blues songs barre the title track. Moving forward outside The Cream of Clapton Band, my goal is to be successful, financially independent, happy, in love, and healthy.

Will Johns: The ClassicRockHistory.Com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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