Lib at Large: Isaak drummer Kenney Dale Johnson’s day in the Sun
By Paul Liberatore
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 10/14/2011 08:20:00 AM PDT
Kenney Dale Johnson, the drummer for Chris Isaak’s band, with his drum set in his San Rafael home on Wednesday, April 22, 2009. Isaak’s band will be headlining at Sonoma Jazz Plus on May 24th. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel) Jeff Vendsel
KENNEY DALE JOHNSON, longtime drummer for Chris Isaak, called the other day all excited about the new album the band recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., one of the birthplaces of rock ‘n’ roll.
“That was the most fun I’ve ever had making a record,” said the San Rafael resident. “I looked around as we were playing and thought, Oh, my God, I can’t believe I’m here. We had a ball.”
That’s what impresses me about Kenney. He’s been with Isaak for more than 25 years, and in other rock bands before that, but he hasn’t become jaded. Far from it.
He and his buddy Isaak are self-described “music geeks.” They grew up (Kenney in Texas, Isaak in Stockton) listening to early
Chris Isaak Sheryl Louis
rock records by Elvis and Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis and the other future classics that were recorded by Sam Phillips at Sun.
“We were both influenced by those records,” Kenney said in his personable Lone Star drawl. “All those great songs were made right there in that little room.”
Aptly titled “Beyond the Sun,” the album was released this week on Vanguard, the band’s new label. The concept arose while they were on tour a year ago. Passing through the South, they made a pilgrimage to Sun, one of rock’s holy shrines, and were invited to jam using the studio’s instruments.
“We had no intention of recording there when we went, but after we jammed all night, Chris goes, ‘Why don’t we make a record of Sun cover songs?'”
Kenney recalled. When no one could think of any reason whey they shouldn’t, they forged ahead.
“Half the battle was figuring out which ones we were going to do.”
They ended up recording 36 tunes in 11 days, selecting a dozen for the album, a mixture of the familiar and the obscure, including Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Jerry Lee’s “Great Balls of Fire,” Carl Perkins’ little-known rave-up “Dixie Fried” and a delightful rarity called “Miss Pearl” by a cat named Johnny Wages, whom Isaak discovered one night on YouTube.
“You can really hear the room in some