Ross Johnson - "Baron of Love, Pt. II" (Make It Stop!)
If what Ross Johnson says about himself is true, he is the kind of man you might like to have a drink or 12 with, but not at your place. You certainly wouldn’t want him near any of your female relatives, nor anything breakable. A college librarian by day, Johnson has also been a notorious fixture of Memphis’s music scene since the late ’70s, when he joined an about-to-bottom-out Alex Chilton for a lot of substance abuse and a few gigs.
Chilton’s legendarily chaotic Like Flies On Sherbert sessions introduced Johnson as both a drummer and, more importantly, raconteur. “Baron Of Love Pt. II” kicks off some versions of Chilton’s Flies with the sounds of some seriously soused fool shouting amorous red light sentiments over a just as drunk band that is beating some defenseless blues riff into the dirt. That fool, of course, is Johnson and that tune also opens up Make it Stop!, where it sets the template for everything that follows.
He has done the same thing with Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, the Gibson Brothers, the Ron Franklin Entertainers, and various lesser-known ensembles, and over that time his M.O. hasn’t changed much; insert bottle in mouth, consume contents, open mouth, and spew. What sets him apart from your average babbling drunk is what comes out; Johnson zeroes right in on moments that most of us would only share with a therapist we’d known a long, long time, and renders their embarrassing details with painfully comedic lucidity.
Are they good? Wrong question; if you want musical goodness, pick up a Pablo Cruise record. Johnson’s narratives range from pathetic to borderline-horrifying, which anyone who likes Tennessee Williams plays or slasher movies can assure you is much more compelling than “good.” Excess is (often by design) numbing, and Johnson’s is no exception; his performances work best when taken one or two at a time. But on their own terms, they’re devastating.