Patrick Johnson, the Baton Rouge-based bass player in Dash Rip Rock, has released “Last River Drive-In,” his first solo album. Nonetheless, the internationally known Dash Rip Rock, famous for its 1995 novelty hit, “(Let’s Go) Smoke Some Pot,” remains Johnson’s musical priority.
A member of many bands before he joined Dash Rip Rock — including Elsah, The Prescriptions, Poor Harvey and the late Tabby Thomas’ blues band — Johnson began making demos for his solo debut before he joined Dash in 2007.
“I always had it in mind to make a solo CD,” he said. “But I wasn’t confident in the songs until about 2010. Then I realized some of these songs might be OK.”
Johnson financed the production of “Last River Drive-In” through a Kickstarter campaign. He recorded the songs at studios in Baton Rouge and New Orleans with a band including his guitarist brother, Paul Johnson. Johnson’s artist wife, Lafon, painted the CD’s retro cover art.
For a number of reasons, Dash Rip Rock leader and founder Bill Davis didn’t participate in the “Last River Drive-In” sessions. To begin with, the pop-rock and punky rock songs Johnson writes don’t mix well with Davis’ music. During Johnson’s years in Dash Rip Rock, the band has only played one of his compositions.
“It’s a different style,” Johnson explained. “And it’s hard to write in the style of Bill Davis. Myself and some other members of Dash tried that in the past. It didn’t work. Our songs don’t fit the Dash setting.”
Although Johnson invited Davis to play some guitar for “Last River Drive-In,” the two of them mutually decided otherwise. Not wanting to ride Dash Rip Rock’s coattails, Johnson did his album independently of the band.
This doesn’t mean Davis doesn’t support Johnson’s solo project.
“He’s been 100 percent encouraging and positive,” the bassist and singer said. “He was thrilled when I gave him the CD. He said it sounded killer. ‘Your Fire’ is his favorite song.”
Davis’ benevolent attitude is not universal in the music business.
“Some big name bands and musicians might want you to work solely for them,” Johnson said. “They could say, ‘Anything you write while you’re in this band belongs to the band.’ But Bill has always been considerate. And I don’t want to ever step on Dash’s toes. If I have a conflict, I’d rather cancel my solo show and work with Dash Rip Rock. It’s the bigger band and the band I have to work the hardest for.”
His seven years in Dash Rip Rock have been a rollercoaster ride, Johnson said.
“I’ve played in, or at least traveled through, 43 states with Dash and most of the big cities,” he said.
Johnson also played four tours of Norway and Denmark with Dash.
“We have a nice following in Denmark,” he said. “And Dash Rip Rock was big in Finland for a while. The Scandinavians love American music. They like our sped-up, punked-out cowboy music, but whenever we slow it down and play the blues, that really brightens them up.”
Johnson learned a lesson about being pigeonholed from Dash Rip Rock.
“Some of Bill’s better songs are overshadowed by the sillier stuff that Dash does, like ‘(Let’s Go) Smoke Some Pot.’ It’s not that those aren’t great songs too, but when you’ve been stereotyped as ‘The Pot Song’ band and you try to do a ballad, people are going to be like, ‘Get to ‘The Pot Song.’ That’s why I didn’t put any humorous songs on my record.”