Anyone remember JAUGERNAUT ? Well, this US band released 2 fine albums (privat releases on Valentine
Records) in 80 and 83. The first selftitled album is very rare nowadays. On this album, JAUGERNAUT had 6 members and the album contained pure pomp music, including all the ingredients such as many harmony vocals, upfront keys and a fine combination of poppy tunes with some prog elements like bands as STYX did in their Equinox-years. The lyrics on the album were, sometimes, a bit mellow but yet possitive all the way.

There aren't any screaming guitars on this album, but the album contained nice melodic rocksongs varying with more balladesque songs, using acoustic guitars, great harmonies and many, many keys. Yes, very pompy stuff indeed. Personaly, I think there isn't a weak song on the entire album, but if I may pick out some favourite tunes, then they'll be The light of your love, Sooner or later and Dear Sunshine. Although the production was a bit average, this album is very recommendable and don't think twice if you see it.... Happy hunting !

Three years later, there was an almost complete line-up chance and they released a second album called Take 'em there. Jaugernaut reduced themselves to a quartet and the music changed a bit toward a more AOR approach still there were enough pomp traces left reminding their debut. James Johnston (bass, lead vocals and songwriter) made his enterance on this album. Again, on this album, no weak songs in my humble opinion. The production was better than on the debut and the music on this classic album contained some 'heavier' songs, still very melodic and also still with plenty of keys.

The prog elements in the music are sporadic and the songs turned out more mainstream sounding, more AOR. A song like Trendsetters even reminds me a bit of early Queensryche, including the high vocals. Other outstanding songs on this album were and still are the titlesong, Love I Do (with those up front keys like on their debut), Anti Freeze, On the top of the world (great melodic rocker with catchy chorus) and the really beautiful ballad 2 or 3 Years. Even my wife likes this one very much ! Again, a very recommendable album, maybe not as rare as there debut (saw it on several sales lists).If you like bands like STYX, SUNBLIND LION (second release), LINK, ROADMASTER and these kind off bands, JAUGERNAUT is the band for you !

Gradings: 7,5 for the first and 9 for the second release. Thanks to Eric Abrahamsen, we were able to get in touch with James (Jim on the record) Johnston (bassist, singer/songwriter on the second album of the band) and he told us there's a possibility both albums will be rereleased on cd. This is great news, especially for those who are looking for the rare originals. James is also working on a second solo release and we hope we'll be able to review some of his solo material in the future. We asked James some questions, about the past and the present, and you'll find them together with the answers in next interview.

Please, can you tell us how it all started way back in the early eighties ? How did JAUGERNAUT formed ?

Jaugernaut Started out in 1974 as 5 high school friends in a cover band called 'Joint Effort'. They mostly played dances at local high schools. In the first 3 years they established themselves as the most popular band in their hometown of Olympia, Washington. It being the 70's, the word 'Joint' had some negative connotations with
the adults who were responsible for hiring bands for local dances, So the boys started looking for a name that would make them more 'marketable'. - or at least less controversial.

What does JAUGERNAUT mean ?

Originally, The band chose 'Juggernaut', - which is an unstoppable force, but another Seattle band was also using that name, so, they changed the phonetic spelling and annunciation - Since I wasn't around when they chose it, I really cant say why they just didn't find something else, It was always a touchy subject amongst us, because Jeff Wade and I always thought the name was not worth all the effort. I always thought we should just use Juggernaut, and tell the other band to piss off, they weren't very good - or popular for that matter.

I always ask myself, how does a band find their musical direction or style ? Which were the bands or music that influenced JAUGERNAUT ??

We all came from different backgrounds, but we all loved the Beatles, and some of us - like Jeff and myself
were absolutely crazy about bands like YES, Led Zeppelin and Rush, So we tended to write kind of Poppy sounding songs, with a progressive edge to them. That was our trademark, and in the 80's in America, it was also the 'Kiss of Death' -commercially speaking. We were called '70's Dinosaur Rockers' by Every Radio station and press organization that would even talk to us at the time. It was a tough sell, but we decided that since that was what came naturally to us, it was the right thing for us to do.

We tried on occasion, to do what people said would make us popular, and it always failed miserably. I remember playing a club in downtown Seattle called 'Pier 70' a very upscale club on the waterfront, a pure dance club, and we would Start sneaking in originals into the set list, and the place would go wild, then afterwards, the club owners and booking agents would tell us what every other band that played there did and why that was better than what we were doing. It just never worked out and at that time in Seattle, you couldn't make a living playing all original music, so we had to strike a balance. It allowed us to sell some records, but hurt us too because all the original music bands felt we were selling out by playing cover tunes, and the 'cover band' elite thought that we were crazy for even trying to play progressive music in an age of 'Maddona' and 'Men without Hats' - (remember 'The Safety Dance'?).

In 1980 JAUGERNAUT released their debut, followed in 1983 by the Take 'em there album. As you probably know, they are kinda rare nowadays and people pay a lot of money for a copy. You told me, there would be a chance they gonna be rereleased on cd. Please, can you tell me more about that and is there a chance there will be a reunion of JAUGERNAUT ?

I am currently working with Jim Valentine to get both albums on to CD, but there are lots of issues still yet to be worked out, but it is under way, and we are looking for a way to get it out within the next year. Jim had to go out and look for the half inch master Tapes - he was storing them under his house in Los Angeles. Fortunately, they are still in good shape and are now being cleaned up, and I'm currently looking to line up some kind of a distribution deal, so I don't wind up with a big stack of them in my garage, when they need to be available in
Europe. Another option is to distribute via the Web, but we aren't to that stage in the decision process yet. We are also selecting outtakes and what kind of Photographs to go with the release. We have a ton of live stuff too that never made it on to vynil.

On the first release, JAUGERNAUT was a 6 piece band and on the second release there was an almost complete line up chance. What happened and for you James, how did you came in touch with the band. Did you play in other bands and did you released something before JAUGERNAUT ?

The first Jaugernaut album was released about a year before I joined the band. Relations between the Drummer, Dale and the rest of the band had become strained, and Jim and Geoff started looking for a more consistent Drummer. I understand that Dale loved to 'Jam' on the songs, and rarely played a song the same way twice. Which tended to irritate Jim, in particular. Jeff Wade tried out and was a perfect fit. It is largely Jeff's love for progressive music, that gave the band its real Progressive edge. In the mean time, John DiBernardo had become tired of being a small town Rock Star, and had decided to move on,that left the band without their 'lead' voice, so when Brad Hymas took over the job, he had a great voice but didn't have the stamina to sing a full night's worth of music. Within a year Jim and Geoff were looking for another vocalist/Bass Player.

While this was going on, I was playing in a struggling (starving!) Seattle band called 'The Warheadz'. Guitarist Mark VonBeck and I had just written and recorded an almost punk version of 'On top of the world'. Mark happened to be in a recording session one day with Jim Valentine, and played 'On top of the world' for Jim. Jim liked my voice, and One thing led to another, and I drove to Olympia and tried out with the band, and everything seemed to work. My vocal range made me a perfect match, and I became a member of Jaugernaut! Over the years I got to know the ex-members, and we all get along very well.

Personally, I think the second album is the better one the two releases as the sound changed a bit toward AOR, although there were still the POMP traces from the debut. Can you remember the recording off this classic second album, can you please tell us more about that ?

Yes! it was a nightmare! we recorded it in the middle of a 38 day straight shot of playing live, so our voices and ears were totally hashed! You can really hear it in my voice on 'On top of the world' - there just wasn't much air left in my lungs when we recorded that song. We recorded at a studio where we had access to every new toy you could ever want, but we didn't know squat about using any of it. The Engineers and owner got a big kick out of our method of production, which was 'Hey, what happens when I turn this knob?' Being a self released album we had total freedom to do what we wanted to. There were some big mistakes too.

We ran out of 2 inch tape at the end of Anti-Freeze, and so we had to splice on an additional 10 seconds of tape, and it made the fade out sound funky, so we replaced it with the sound of ice cubes thawing in an ice tray. It came out totally funny, but hey, -that was our solution! Another technical problem was the drums - particularly the snare, the engineer used noise gates on the drums and when we were mixing, we noticed a horrible sound on the snare track, like a garbage can lid being banged with a baseball bat, It turned out to be the ride cymbal bleeding through the noise gate on the snare - so in the mix we had to squash the snare so badly, that is came out sounding really 'tiny', when Jeff has a Monster snare sound.

There were also some problems with the Mastering process too. John Golden Mastered the album, He is one of the best there is.but he complained that there was too much bottom end on the master to make a good sound on vinyl, and rolled it way back. It gave the album a smaller sound than we wanted. The plan is to go back to the original half inch master directly off the 2 inch tape, and the sound of the cd will be far better than the album was.


Both albums were released privat. I can't believe there weren't any labels interested in your music or am I wrong?

As I mentioned before, American Labels at that time were really looking for only certain things, - Big hair and sex appeal. We were a 'Rock' band, playing music that took perhaps a bit more thought than what was suitable for the airwaves. Songs with breaks, pauses or changes in speed were just not cool in the US. We just weren't
'commercial' enough. We did have some talks with some promoters about going to Japan, but we all wanted to do something here (in the US). We always believed that if the music was good enough, the labels would come to us. - that just never happened. We were just a bit too rough around the edges for the labels of the time


How was response on this second album ? Have you any idea how many copies were sold off both albums ?

About 2 thousand of the first album were sold, and we printed about three thousand of Take E'm There, but at least 500 of those we used as demo's and Promos.


Where there, back then, many bands making your kind off music ? Which bands can you remember in the scene back then ?

Yes, I remember that Rail was a fairly big Northwest Washington act back then, They were the original winners of the MTV basement tapes contest (If you can remember back that far). Just a few years before, there was a band we all had admired was called 'The Sorcerers Apprentice' - They eventually got signed, and renamed
by the label to 'Russia', I've heard that they still have a bit of a cult following as well in parts of Europe. Of course, Queensryche has been a huge success, and I actually played in a cover band just for a few days with Geoff Tate before He quit and joined 'Ryche. It was a real joke. I'm one of the few people in the world who has heard Geoff Tate sing 'Pop' music. -It wasn't pretty. As far as bands that played our kind of 'progressive' music, there just wasn't much out there at the time, except of course, bands like Rush, but even bands like Yes were just barely surviving.

Can you remember the best gigs or tours you did and with which bands? Had the band a big following ?

Jaugernaut had a fairly strong following in the Northwest area of the United States, and we eventually were making top dollar - as far as working cover bands go in the Northwest. But we really had very little contact with the better known 'popular' bands of the day, mostly because we were making a living by playing cover songs. And the National acts preferred to have all original bands open for them, and pay them accordingly. - of course, we
could make over a thousand dollars a night, playing by ourselves. Looking back, I'd have to say we were pretty clueless about how it was supposed to be done.

What is the most nicest thing you can remember about JAUGERNAUT ? What was the biggest disapointment?

For me, the best part about Jaugernaut, was the chance to be involved with living your dream, I look back at those years and sometimes I yearn to be able to make a living from music. I guess conversely, the biggest dissapointment was realizing we weren't going to 'make it'. People we knew were getting signed for putting out crap, and we couldn't get anyone to listen to us.

How did it came to an end ? What were the reasons for the split ? What happened after the break up ? Did you all go your own ways or did you stay in touch ? Were you still connected in a musical way ?

In 1984, we began to disagree on how to 'make it'. Geoff and Jim were of the opinion that we should take the band to Los Angeles and starve until we got noticed. I was married with children, and didn't want to move my family down there. The bottom line is, we all agreed that if nothing happened in 1 year, that Geoff and Jim would move to California, and the band would split. We stayed together until mid 85, and nothing did happen, so we said

I got a Computer job, Jeff started playing with a Metal band, and Jim and Geoff moved to Los Angeles. Through the years, we've all stayed in touch, and I talk to Jim and Jeff regularly. I stopped playing music for about 10 years, but in 95, I started again. I,ve been playing and recording alot. Jeff Wade and I are still very good friends, and Jeff puts down drum tracks for me, and up until last year he and I played in another band together called 'Nitecrew' for about three more years. In fact, one of the 'Bonus Tracks' on the Take -em there CD will probably be a song done by me, Jeff and Jim.

Are you still occupied in the music business ?

Boy, am I! I am currently recording a second solo CD. I am still shopping my material to labels and to Publishing Houses. I've developed more of a Pop sound to my current music. It has been described alot like Rush meets the Beatles, - with a folk twist - and a Horn section.

Ok, the last half year, we hear many great things about many classic rock bands giving it a second try. I don't know if you heard, but bands like STARCASTLE, BLUEBEARD, STONEBOLT, .... are releasing new
material . Could this be a sign for JAUGERNAUT to give it a second try ?

We have discussed releasing a third Jaugernaut CD, but we are scattered all over the west now, Technology would allow us to do it, but it would take some doing. Right now Jim has some pretty hefty business commitments, Jeff is currently playing for Metal Church, (they just got back from a tour in Europe in October) and all this makes a reunion difficult. Our first 2 albums did so poorly when they were released, that it would take some serious action in sales to justify a reunion. I'm not saying it wont happen, but it would require something
to seriously motivate us.

Which are the best 5 albums ever made, in your opinion ?

That's an almost impossible question to answer: I really do love alot of different types of music, and I rarely listen to the same album more than once a year, but I'd have to say that My five favorite Rock/Pop albums of all time in no particular order would be:

Jethro Tull: Songs from the Wood
Led Zeppelin 2
Rush: Hemispheres
Jellyfish: Spilt Milk
David Byrne: Emotion

At least they seem to be the albums that keep finding their way into my CD player.

Last question, do you have some last words for all the fans over here in Europe, and of course in the rest of the world ?

I was very shocked when I found out that Jaugernaut had gained some notoriety in Europe. This makes me feel great that the music we believed so much in, and put so much hope in, really was worth doing. For years after we released Take 'Em There, I sometimes felt that it was a mistake to put so much effort into something that gave back so little in return. We had such great commercial expectations! They never paid off.

But life is short, and for me, creating music will always be worth the effort - for me alone, -not for buckets of money, or fame. but if even one person - or a few people a continent away feel the same enjoyment from the music, that is a wonderful and rare thing. Thank you all! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed! If you have any comments, just e-mail me at:

(This interview and story above of JAUGERNAUT was done by Willy van Buel)