Interview with "Johnny Popp"

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: I'm talking with drummer Johnny "Rocker" Popp about his close to thirty years experience swinging the sticks. Johnny, when did you first pick up the sticks?

Johnny: Around the age of nine.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: How did you choose drums as your lifelong companion?

Johnny: I think they chose me. I was always attracted to the drums from the very beginning. I don't know exactly what it was, possibily it could have been the physicallity of it to begin with. The fact that the drums are the most physically demanding instrument. I just knew they were for me.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: How did you first get started?

Johnny: Basically, the usual story about pounding on all of moms's pots and pans and everything else. But, my Grandfather, who was a father figure to me, saw how bound and determined I was, got me into private lessons around the age of nine.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Wow, even before any school bands?

Johnny: Yes, I couldn't wait for that, and my Grandfather recognized that, also.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Track for us your formal training on the drums.

Johnny: Well, as I said, I started private lessons first. Then I went on to school bands in elementary, Jr. High, High School, and finally majored in music at the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University. But, listening to all the old time greats and all the new blood out there, is what I call continuing education. You learn something new every listen.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: You must be pretty well cultured in many different musical tastes.

Johnny: I love all kinds of music. And majoring in music at Y.S.U had given me an exposure to everything from Classical to Jazz to Metal. Beyond that, I had been deeply involved in music Theory and History. It fascinates me.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Who are your major influences?

Johnny: There are so many greats out there, present and past, that I couldn't possibly list them all. But, the main ones that come to mind are Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, John Bonham, Neil Peart, and more recently Mike Portnoy and Vinnie Paul. I am sure there are many up and coming favorites of mine in the works as we speak.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Were there any major turning points in your life that have influenced you?

Johnny: One really big experience that I'll never forget. And that was when I saw the great Buddy Rich live when I was around the age of twelve. I was awe struck. I was within arms length of him and off to his right side. He even glanced at me a few times and smiled!

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Wow! That must have been a heart stopping experience for a young drummer such as yourself.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Oh it was! When I saw him swirling those sticks at lightning speed, I just knew that I wanted to be up there too someday doing the same thing.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Can you remeber your first time playing before an actual audience?

Johnny: Oh yes, I was scared to death. I was eleven years old and it was for a talent show at my church. And the whole church was there, hundreds of people! Pretty terrifying for an eleven year olds first gig! Funny thing was, the further I got into playing for them, seeing the smiles, clapping, ect., the more comfortable I was in front of them.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: What did you play?

Johnny: I played Kiss' "Detroit Rock City", The Steve Miller Band's "Jungle Love", and then went into a pretty involved drum solo.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Did you win?

Johnny: There were no winners or losers for that one. Just having the guts to go out there was enough.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: So you entered a lot of talent shows in those days?

Johnny: Yes, of coarse winning some and loosing some.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: What did this accomplish for you?

Johnny: For me, it was learning to be comfortable in front of an audience. Talent shows combined with playing in school bands, was my main initiator to the art of playing live in front of people. Kind of like the only way to learn how to swim, is to jump right in. But, you might have to start off in the baby pool first.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: When was your first actual paying gig with a band?

Johnny: I'd have to say around the age of fourteen.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Tell us about it.

Johnny: I was in a three piece group called "Icon." The guitar player and I were both fourteen at the time. The bass player/ singer was twenty-two. We played at this really,and I mean really hardcore biker type bar called Yogi's. Thank goodness they liked us!

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Wow! So you played some really rough places in those days.

Johnny: Oh yeah, and still do once in a while. Sometimes you book a show in a new town and you just don't really know what the place is like that your going to play at. I'm sure most every seasoned musician can tell you their own horror stories about that. But, when your fourteen, and your trying to convince a big burly looking biker guy whose the owner of the bar that, yes, you are in the band, it's a little different story. I think we each made twenty bucks for that one, but the experience I'll never forget.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Tell us about a few of your most memerable bands you've been in.

Johnny: To me, they were all memerable and hold a special place in my heart. But, I was in a group once called "Wretch" between the years 1986-87. This was the heyday of the so-called "big hair bands. In fact, everything was big with "Wretch", big double bass drum set, with a big gong, big stage show, and usually, big audiences. We were always playing such venues as the Cleveland Augora with packed houses. We were all original in "Wretch", and were signed to an Indie lable called "Auburn Records." We were booked at many huge shows and we all made a pretty penny on the side. Not to mention, what went on after the shows! But, we were promised the world, things like a record deal, a Japanese tour to start, and so on. In the end, however, it never materialised. A great disapointment, but unparalleled memories. Another group that was unforgetable to me was "Left End." "Left End" was a group that had great national success in the 1970's and 80's. And was inducted in the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame for it's hit single "Spoiled Rotten." In fact, if you listen closely, you can still hear some of "Left End's" classic hits, such as, "Sunshine Girl", "Cyclone Rider", and "Bad Talkin' Lady" on your favorite classic rock radio station. I was called to fill the position of the drum throne in"Left End" during the summer of 1998. "Left End" was reforming behind unpredictable lead singer Denise T. Menace. Denise, who was kown for his bizarre costumes and outragous stage antics and theactrics, had big plans. Soon, we were in the studio recording brand new "Left End" tracks, and out on the road playing to packed houses, opening for such nationals as "Bad Company" and "Blue Oyster Cult." Success in "Left End" lasted just over a year until, unfortunately, popularity dwindled.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: What is your current situation?

Johnny: Currently, I play in a group called "Smack Alice." "Smack Alice" started off as Godsmack/ Alice In Chains Tribute act. Over the last few years, however, it has evolved to include various other copy tunes, enough originals to fill a full length cd, to opening for such nationals as "Siliva" and headlining coutless numbers of it's own shows. But, I'm always looking to expand my horizons.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: What do you mean by expanding your horizons?

Johnny: I am always one to keep my options open. Like I said, I love all types of music. Recently, I auditioned for a female singer named "Martika." She was quite big in both television and in music throughout the 1980's and 1990's. And was especially known for her hit "Toy Soilders." Her style is mostly, somewhat pop-rock.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: I remember the song "Toy Soilders", and it's still pretty big!

Johnny: Yes, it is! She actually flew out with her guitar player to meet and audition me. Ultimately, it was down to three drummers nationaly, and I was one of them! But, unfortunately, in the end, it wasn't the right situation for either of us. But, it just goes to show you, if the situation is right, I'm your man/ drummer.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: So, if Britney Spears or say Shania Twain should call you to play drums tomorrow, you would do it?

Johnny: If the situation was right, and only in the most professional of situations.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: I've read a few of your articles in national drum magazines, that must of been a great compliment.

Johnny: Yes it was! Both "Modern Drummer Magazine" and "Drum! Magazine" both have done various articles on me, boy the feedback I received from those! I've also done numerous more local magazines, newspapers, and television appearences throughout the years.

Don: Wow! So, you must be like a local celeb around the area?

Johnny: Well, the name is kinda hard to forget, haha!

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: Speaking of that, how did you get the nickname "Rocker?"

Johnny: Well, that comes mainly from a couple of guys I work with named Smitty and Dillon. They began coming to all the "Smack Alice" shows and yelling "Johnny Rocker" at the top of their lungs. I remember one time, opening for a national with over 3,800 screaming people, and I could still hear them chanting "Johnny Rocker" , soon the whole crowd was too! After that, everyone just started calling me that.

Paul Wack for U.E. Magazine: What are your plans for the future?

Johnny: I'm a drummer first and foremost, it's my passion. And I plan to continue pursuing that passion until the very end!