Note: Most of these articles are older, however as new articles are written, we will post them. Also note, when The Johnsons were establishing themselves, the band focused on a strict, all-80's format. Part of the plan was to make our gig a focused format with the goal of creating a core fan-base. Once that was established, we broadened our playlist, focusing more on the best music that people in our target market--from 21-45 years of age--will enjoy. Mission accomplished. Format aside, we still focus on a lot of what's touched-upon in these articles: Entertainment Value, Performance, Stage Antics, Crowd Participation...We're not your father's band...

 

The Entertainment Company Signs The Johnsons

Milwaukee WI-Neil Hawes, president of The Entertainment Company has just announced the signing of another major local act, "The Johnsons."

The Entertainment Company is southeastern Wisconsin's premier booking agency for live entertainment specializing in the area's premier acts. The Johnsons join a list of "marquee bands" the agency books which includes "The Love Monkeys," "The Boogie Men," "The Toys," and "The Sweet Tarts."

The Johnsons are marketed as "The Big 80's Party." They perform highly danceable 80's cover music. Most songs were top 10 the year they were originally released. Many were #1's.

The Johnson's performance is touted as a highly enjoyable playlist with "better than concert" sound, "awesome" light show and an upbeat stage performance.

Bookings are available immediately for mid-November into 1999. Contact Neil Hawes at (414) 821-0309. (Edit: area code changed--262)

 


New Pop Band Brings 1980's Party To S.E. Wisconsin

They call it "The Big 80's Party" with the johnsons. They play the songs that made MTV famous. They say, "you can dance if you want to" which is an understatement since you can dance to every single song they play. "Actually," drummer/vocalist K. Johnny Johnson shares, "that's a line from a Men Without Hats tune that we thought characterized a whole generation of music as well as what our band is all about…but really, you can dance to our tunes…a lot of people can sing every word."

But why is there such a buzz about the johnsons? "Four reasons." says Jeffery Johnson bassist/vocalist. "The 80's are coming back and they're going to hit hard because everyone 21 through 35 had great times back then. It was a better time. Case in point: MTV actually played music videos back then!"

Living in the late 90's seems to mean reliving the 80's, at least in South Eastern Wisconsin. WKTI is now fifty percent 80's including Back Tracks USA, 80's Afternoons, and 80's Flashback programs. WLUM has it's Retro Lunch featuring 80's music. WMYX is fifteen to twenty percent 80's and WPNT has 80's programming too. Nationally, the 80's are coming back with VH-1's Pop-Up Video and with the huge success of the movie The Wedding Singer.

"The second reason people are excited about the johnsons is because we play the "hip," danceable, pop stuff. It's a combination of pop, new wave and rock." Adds Johnson. "We play 40-45 tunes a night. There's too many different artists to list but to give you a good idea, artists we cover include Duran Duran, INXS, Wang Chung, Talking Heads, Flock Of Seagulls and Naked Eyes and every song was in the top 40 the year it came out. Most were #1's."

"Third," adds Donny Johnson lead singer, "We simply provide the music for the party and let the crowd take over, kind of like a 'live band-party catalyst.' We do our thing, play the songs as exact as possible, do silly things on stage and get people to dance and sing…you know, get people to blow off some steam and maybe meet a new friend." Ricky Johnson guitarist/vocalist continues, "We're doing this for fun and for our friends. We hope to have a lot of fun and meet a lot of friends."

"The fourth and final reason people are excited about what we are doing is because it's unique and fresh," Johnson offers. "Our show has a theme, it's an 80's party. Our sound is unbelievable-the songs sound almost exactly the same as the originals, only live. Our light show gets better every day and our crowd gets bigger and better each week. It's really a lot of wild fun…a real good time."

 

80's Band Delivers Something New & Different

Southeastern Wisconsin is welcoming a new edition to the growing number of 1980's cover bands. "The Johnsons" entered the local music scene in mid-November 1998 with their spin on the 1980's. It's hard to categorize but it is party-rock that's fun and danceable yet enjoyable to sit back and listen to. They call their performances "The Big 80's Party with The Johnsons" and I would have to say they deliver on that statement.

I talked to a couple of "partygoers" and asked them what they thought. Sally Kastreeva from Waukesha stated, "The songs these guys play remind me of the old MTV." Jenny Bergerstein from UWM said that she hears a lot of their songs on the 80's radio programs but "it's really cool how they perform the songs. They sound exactly the same as the originals but different with more energy and excitement." Don Allen from Oak Creek reminisces, "I don't know if this reminds me more of high school or college…this is really fun." Finally, Peter Danbury of Menomonee Falls added a different opinion. "The band is OK. I like all the women and the beer is cold."

Jeffery Johnson, bassist for the band, explained that when the band was formed, everything was designed around people who like to see live music. "It's entertainment baby! Who's your audience and what do they want! …No really, we wanted to appeal to a huge audience, so we looked at who goes out and what they like. People 21 through 35 are the people in the clubs and at the festivals and in the Universities. People, primarily women, like to dance. Men like to hear good performances of good music with awesome sound and light show (while they watch the women dance). So we thought, OK, these are the people we want to party with, now what do they want to dance to and listen to…"

What the band found is that the 80's was coming back and getting bigger and bigger every week. "The 80's were obsessive and excessive. They were larger than life. They were terribly overproduced yet probably the funnest period of music ever…is 'funnest' a word?" Donny Johnson, lead vocalist laughed. "So we decided to do an all 80's show that included the sure-fire 80's blockbusters as well as the 'gone but not forgotten' fun stuff."

"Picking the first 40-45 songs was a piece of cake." Drummer K. Johnny Johnson offered. "Yea-right…" Ricky Johnson interjected with a big smile. "It took us over 6 months to pick the initial list…many lives were lost…during the whole process Jeffery quit the band twice and we fired him once…" "Actually," K. Johnny continued, "we pulled the top 200 list from 1980 through 1989 and made a master list. Then we figured out if we could play each song respectably. Then we weighed it against 'freshness,' 'party worthiness,' and 'danceability.'

Although "The Johnsons" are guilty of playing some of the same songs many other 80's bands play (the crowd loves them), they have quite a few songs no other bands play which really makes "The Big 80's Party" a hit. The most refreshing tunes include Der Kommossar by After The Fire, Our House by Madness, Always Something There To Remind Me by Naked Eyes, Dance Hall Days by Wang Chung, I Ran by Flock of Seagulls and Wild Wild West by The Escape Club.

After checking out a couple of "Big 80's Parties with The Johnsons," all this reporter can say is it is entertainment baby! The sound is better than concert quality. The light show is extremely conducive to a dance party. The stage performance is upbeat and fun laced with various antics and crowd participation. And the crowd is nuts. People dancing (and drinking). People singing, yelling and screaming (and drinking). People clapping and waving their hands (and drinking). And even a growing group of people dressing-up in 80's garb.

I recommend this band if you are looking for something familiar yet different. The Johnsons are currently playing all the larger clubs in southeastern Wisconsin. This summer they will be playing all of the major festivals. For a current schedule, visit their website at www.johnsonrock.com.


The Johnsons at 1999 Wisconsin State Fair
Old Style & Major Goolsby's Stage Packed Them In

Four nights, thousands of people, lots of food and drink…Big Party! That was the scene at this year's State Fair Old Style & Major Goolsby's Heartland Stage featuring The Johnsons.

Tucked-away in a location off the main thoroughfare, The Johnsons surprised fair-goers providing "main-stage-caliber" entertainment at the nicely laid out, restaurant / beer pavilion / patio area. "It was great," according to Donny Johnson, lead singer. "The stage was huge so we could do our 'stage nonsense.' And, it was up high so the people at the beer stands could see us over the people sitting at the tables and the people dancing. The huge dance floor area was a plus we didn't expect."

The Johnsons definitely took advantage of the outstanding layout and delivered four sets, four nights in a row. Playing their all-80's play list, they did an excellent job engaging people in the party. People in their teens, twenties, thirties, forties, and older, danced, sang and participated.

Jeffery Johnson (Bass), who grew up in Milwaukee, shared a story. "I told the band while we were playing that we finally made it to the big time. We had that "Milwaukee-famous" couple, I don't know their names but they have been dancing at Milwaukee clubs, festivals and events for over 20 years…you'd know them if you saw them… Anyway, I explained to the band that we finally made it to the top because that couple danced to our music!"

The Johnsons also appealed to the pre-teens. At one point, the band noticed a toddler trying to climb up on stage so the band brought him up and let him hang out for a few songs. A quick scan of the crowd revealed a warm smile on every mothers' face. "Hey, it's all about fun for everyone," added Donny.

As far as participation, The Johnsons dug into their bag of tricks. A popular feature of their regular show, 'Play with The Johnsons,' where an audience member goes up on stage and sings with the band, was repeated twice nightly. "We were scheduled to play about 20 extra minutes than a regular performance. So we had extra time and thought that the crowd would enjoy two shots a night at singing with us…" Ricky Johnson, Guitarist explained.

"All and all it was one of my favorite gigs," added K. Jonny Johnson (drums), "People didn't want to go home. A couple of the nights, I saw the police standing in back with their arms crossed. Everything was under control but I think they were getting ready to pull the plug because the grounds had to close."

It seems that The Johnsons are holding true to their word. They're here to stay and they're working hard to become one of the most popular acts Southeastern Wisconsin has to offer. The State Fair appearances were testament to that.

 

The Scene Local Profile

Where were you when you first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor? Where were you when the news came that John Kennedy was shot? At which friend's house did you first dial 867-5309 and ask to talk to Jenny?

Every generation has its watershed moments. Is it the fault of the children of the '80s that theirs just happened to have more to do with A Flock of Seagulls than a squadron of Zeros?

Whatever you want to say about MTV and its pernicious hold on the youth of America, one can't deny that it has woven its colorful and sometimes gaudy threads into the fabric of our culture. This was no more true than in the network's ascendancy in the early '80s when it took its place as the new assault on good sense and children's attention spans.

Incredibly, it's been nearly 20 years since the days of Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood and "Jessie's Girl," and the '80s nostalgia train is chugging along nicely.

One car in the caravan is Milwaukee's The Johnsons, a band that embraces '80s kitsch and the early days of MTV in much the same way an old hippie might get misty-eyed over Jerry Garcia or Bob Dylan.

"Our first posters we put out said 'Do You Remember When MTV Used To Play Music Videos?'" said Jeff Jost, bassist and vocalist for the band. "And yes, people are extremely passionate about that stuff and they really do appreciate it a lot."

The Band--Jost, Rick Holaus on guitars and vocals, Donny Schlieger on lead vocals and percussion, and Del Bennet on drums (they refer to themselves as Ricky, Donny, Del and Jeffery Johnson while on stage)--started back in November of 1998.

They saw how some other bands in the area were tapping into '70s & '80s nostalgia and though that might be a good way to go.

"The big thing in Milwaukee, the people that like live music really need something to grab onto, nostalgia or a gimmick or something," said Jost. "They kind of demand entertainment, you can't just go up there and be a great musician. You can, but you'll get 100 people each night."

After being in another band in the early '90s with Holaus and Schlieger that focused more on music from artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Cheap Trick, the group re-formed and carved out a niche with songs like "Safety Dance," "You Spin Me Right Round," and "Der Kommissar."

While based in Milwaukee, they've started to venture into our area, and have found crowds thirsty for danceable '80s pop.

They recently played at UW-Oshkosh for a freshman welcome party and were wowed by the throngs of new college students quite possibly conceived 18 years earlier amid the strains of Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now?"

I felt like we were The Beatles because I think the residence halls encouraged all of them to go, so there must have been 700 to 1000 people in that gym and they were screaming. It was hilarious."

Jost says much of the band's following consists of people who were teen-agers in the '80s, but that the group appeals to a younger contingent as well.

Our strongest crowd is 28-35, however depending on what town you're in the 21 to 28 is fine also," said Jost. "And we've tweaked that. As time has gone on we've taken more songs from the late '80s so the younger kids can enjoy themselves a little more. But if you're playing "Safety Dance," everyone loves it. If you're playing "You Spin Me Right Round," everyone loves it. It's just universally appealing.

The band also likes to encourage audience participation, as in their tradition of picking one audience member to sing Pat Benetar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" each show, or of recreating one of the '80s best videos.

"We have segments in our show where people come up on stage. For example, Robert Palmer's 'Addicted to Love.' We always have Robert Palmer girls come up on stage and they love it, they remember it, they tell their friends, and the next time they're the ones pulling people up."

Some things the band has tried didn't quite catch on the same way, however. This includes taking on the hairstyles and fashions of the period.

"We triedthat and that's where we really did lose the kids. They had no idea," said Jost. "So we kind of basically try to be colorful and we try to just be fun--with taste."

Other pop culture references have also gone by the wayside, in the name of logistics.

"For a long time I had a Rubik's Cube on stage and a Cabbage Patch Doll," said Jost. "At the year anniversary (of the band) I kind of said I don't want to carry this extra stuff to every gig."

Mostly, though, the band's appeal derives not from props but from its enthusiasm for what its members are doing.

"Obviously, we were all in high school and college in the '80's, so for us it was a fun time," said Jost. "Our excitement for it does come through to the audience."

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