Jon Butcher and I go way back; well, okay — Jon Butcher’s music and I go way back. When Along the Axis came out in 1985 I played the hell out of it both at home and in the record store. Any Guy In Black Tee Shirt Who Jammed who came within a hundred feet of the store got my rant about this new guitarist that they had to hear.
That’s life in a small town. I had no idea that by that time Butcher already had a decade under his belt as a working musician, was big-time in the Northeast, and had opened for bands like KISS and J. Geils. Shoot, Along the Axis was his third major label release.
Butcher released two more albums on Capitol before the eighties were over, but that’s hardly where the story ends. He’s now in his fifth decade as a working musician, still gigging, still recording. In the early nineties he formed Electric Factory, which provides scores for film, television, and video games.
All of which is to say that the guy is very busy, still getting it done, and damned if he didn’t stop for a few minutes to catch us up on the Jon Butcher story.
WIM: Where’s home base these days?
JB: I’m living by the Atlantic in a seacoast New England town in Massachusetts called Manchester By the Sea. It’s a historical site and unchanged in many ways from its 18th century origins. I started out in Boston, got sidetracked and moved to Southern California, stayed there for two years, and now find myself back in New England again. Maybe I have a delayed homing signal or something…
WIM: A couple of years ago you put out an album with the Joe Perry Project’s Charlie Farren (2010’s FBI). How did that come about?
JB: Charlie Farren and I are long time mates, friends and friendly competitors from back in the days of knightly combat! We stayed in touch over the years, playing on each other’s records, when one day he called me up in Cali and asked what I was doing.
At the time I was losing my marriage, reinventing my career and generally hiding in my own house of pain. Coming to Boston to do a record with Charlie sounded pretty good to me, so a week later I was on a plane.
After a fit of writing and recording and some more writing and more recording we had a CD that sounded pretty cool- FBI, Farren Butcher Inc.
WIM: Can we expect more from that line-up?
JB: Hard to say but I think it’s possible. Charlie and I toured behind the FBI album and forged an even tighter bond as colleagues and friends. That said both of us have our own separate career interests, our own paths to follow, so we’ll see. I can tell you that a new Jon Butcher Axis CD is being recorded as I write this, the first in more than twenty years. I’m very excited about that.
WIM: Are you serious?
JB: Yes, for the first time since 1985 the Jon Butcher Axis will release a new CD, AXIS3. It’s going to feature new versions of JBA hits “Life Takes a Life” and “Ocean in Motion,” and will also feature a song I’ve included in my live set for many years, “Axis: Bold As Love” by Jimi Hendrix. We’re really excited about AXIS3 and it’ll make up a large part of my work energy for 2013.
WIM: Man, that’s a long time coming — I’m looking forward to that.
In baseball terms back in the Jon Butcher Axis days you were in The Show — a gold record for 1987’s brilliant Wishes, “The Ritual” off of Along the Axis earned a Grammy nomination, MTV, huge tours, the whole bit. Was it a culture shock to go from that circus back to the clubs?
JB: Culture shock ? Not even close, unless you’re Steven Tyler and I think there’s only one of him. A musician’s career isn’t a constant, it’s more like a constantly evolving work in progress.
This is especially true for guitarists. For instance, Jeff Beck plays a mix of venues depending on what’s going on at the moment. There are few musicians who occupy the rarefied air of being a top concert draw year in and year out, particularly for rock artists.
My sense is that those of us who sling guitars for a living have made peace with the inevitable ebb and flow of show business, not so much feast and famine but more like cycles. At the moment my 2013 calendar has a mix of concert venues ranging from medium size clubs to medium size theaters — it just depends.
Now if I was in Aerosmith I’d be rolling pretty upscale right about now, flying in private jets and scenting my bath water with roses. Failing that I’m happy to swim in the waters I’m in, making contact with fans and friends along the way.
WIM: Tell us a little about Electric Factory, your film music business.
JB: Electric Factory was born in Sylmar CA in 1999, an outgrowth of a job I got with Fox Television back in the days when Fox News wasn’t synonymous with Republican politics and the Tea Party.
I got to appear in a national ad campaign with Homer Simpson for the networks’ then upcoming fall season. The spot played around the country for weeks on end, and as a result I found myself in the television/ film music business.
Since then we’ve provided music score for some of the biggest TV shows, feature films and video games: Cars, Ugly Betty, The Sopranos, My Name Is Earl, Shameless, United States of Tara, and many more.
We’re currently providing new music for the new season of Showtimes hit series, Shameless.
WIM: I love that show. William H. Macy is amazing in it. During the nineties you were playing with Barefoot Servants, which laid down some exceptionally tasty blues. I don’t really have a question here — I just think those albums capture some great performances, both vocally and in terms of your playing.
JB: One of the standout experiences of my life as a working guitarist has been playing with Leland Sklar and Ben Schultz in the Servants. We recorded both of our records in Bens’ LA studio and I have never been more proud of any recorded work I’ve done then that with Lee and Ben.
For those who have their head buried in the sand Leland Sklar is perhaps the quintessential bass player, having literally played and recorded with just about every popular artist in the world. His resume reads like a telephone book and his influence has been felt on more records than you can shake a stick at.
Barefoot Servants I is a CD I always recommend to anyone not familiar with my work because it’s full of all of the stuff that I like in guitar-centric records: high energy, high drama and big fun.
The Servants only toured for one year but the good will and legend that tour created is still registering today. I loved being in the Servants.
WIM: You’ve done what must seem impossible to a lot of readers — crafted a lifetime career as a true working musician. What’s the secret?
JB: What’s the secret? Abject stupidity with a dollop of stubbornness thrown in, salt to taste [laughs]! Seriously, a lifetime career is really just the repetition of one foot in front of the other, refusing to quit.
I think it’s only remarkable from the standpoint that most people tend to give up after stepping on a rake a couple of times and take the path of least resistance. That’s completely natural I guess but antithetical to maintaining a show business career where disappointment is baked into the cake.
The world tends to beat you down, kick the shit out of your dreams and deflate even modest expectations. Resilience is the key, getting up off the canvass once you’ve been tagged is a study in concentration and commitment. Or maybe it’s just abject stupidity !
WIM: Why does music matter to Jon Butcher?
JB: I don’t really know, other than it plays the same role as oxygen does. Or gravity. You can go through an entire day — maybe an entire month — never thinking about what oxygen means. It’s fundamental, elemental.
Music, or more specifically the guitar, is as fundamental to my existence as oxygen is. I am now and always will be a student of the guitar, never arriving but always on the journey. I need it to live and I live to play. I don’t think I can explain it any better than that.
BONUS QUESTION: While walking through the Bronx Zoo you happen upon Justin Bieber being mauled by a polar bear. Do you stop and Auto-Tune his screams or go for a snow cone?
JB: Hmm, I’d probably wonder why the Bieb had wandered into a den of polar bears. Then go for a snow cone.
You can buy Jon Butcher’s music everywhere, so get to it. And you can keep up with the man himself at the following: