Interview with Earl Johnson from Moxy

As a teenager, Moxy has always been one of my favorite bands. After hearing "Take it or Leave it" on the radio and watching them perform live with Trooper in 1977, I was hooked. During that time the band came close to breaking big both in Canada and in the US, but due to vocals problems that vocalist Buzz Sherman encountered, it was not to be. The band did enjoy success in the state of Texas thanks to some dedicated radio DJs down there. Sadly, Buzz passed away in the mid 80's and recently drummer Bill Wade. In 1979 they recorded one album with vocalist Mike Reno, who later went on to fame and fortune with Loverboy, but it was a stark departure from their heavier side. Today the band has reunited with original guitarists Buddy Cane and Earl Johnson, along with new members Brian Maxim (vocals), Kim Hunt (drums), and Jim Samson(bass), and are showing once again their musical talents.

GB - I understand you have a new live album coming out soon. Tell me a bit about that?

EJ - It's a combination of basically tapes from the last two years. We had a lot of people asking us about a live album as everyone did one in them days. We weren't overly happy with the recording quality we got out of Ridin High and Moxy II at all. A lot of bands are re-doing some of their old stuff now. We had a chance to go back and really do it the way we wanted to. The live one is the one everyone wanted us to go to next, so we said lets try to do a recreation of what we do live. Most of the live albums that come out, unless they are really EQ'ed properly, they are not sounding that good. We went to great lengths to make sure that if a fan bought this, when they take it home it will sound the way it's suppose to sound.

GB - Any live audio or video exist from the 70's with Buzz or Mike Reno?

EJ - No, unfortunately there was no video footage as we were pre-video. No audio of any quality either. With Mike it was short lived. The album didn't do much as well and then it was pretty much over.

GB- Did you know in advance that "Can't You See I'm a Star" was going to be in the recent movie on the life of the late Pierre Trudeau?

EJ - Ya someone gave me the heads up on that. Much as you don't like getting old, you don't mind being a little bit of history. It's a bit of an honor to me as I was Trudeau fan in the old days.

GB- How did the success the band got it Texas come about, and ever consider moving the group there?

EJ - Ya Texas should have been our home base. We almost did. I almost did personally. The DJs down there had free rain to choose the music on their shows and they loved Moxy 1 when it came out, and they would play the whole side of the record. I remember playing in an auditorium down there with AC/DC. Them us and a guy named Rex Smith. We had 10,000 people there.

GB - It must also have helped with the success of bands like Rush and Triumph there too?

EJ - Rush seemed to fuel a lot of stuff for Canadian bands down there and these guys became fans of it, and I remember when we went down people asking like, "well who else is up there in Canada ya'll .. whatever." (laughs) Unfortunately for us Ridin High came out and did very well in Europe but nobody ever told us. If we had went to Europe after Ridin High, we could have sustained ourselves probably. Because the market is so big over there. But nobody knew. Nobody had any clue at the time.

GB - And there is still a lot of fans in Texas who remember the band after all these years?

EJ - Yes, we did the album first and then it was ok we're going to Texas. We contacted the promoter who has been trying to get us for a few years and he said ok I think we got something going on, we got an album coming out. He said ok great. We went down on a little two day promo trip to meet with him and a radio station and all that, and everyone was ok lets do it and the next thing we were playing with Frank Marino and Saxon and Udo and that was the show.

GB - What contributed to the initial breakup of the band?

EJ - It was a lot of things. A combination of too much time on the road. Too much alcohol definitely. A lot of tension in the band. After you get about two or three albums, you kind of have your shot and it became apparent that we are not going to get a single out of this band. Unfortunately everything was being done at a certain point for Canada, because the States was just too expensive to tour. We just didn't get anything that really broke for us. The sad thing is that Ridin High was probably the right direction to go into when we hit it but we couldn't follow it up and Buzz leaving and all that. Buzz physically couldn't sing a 50 min set under the pressure needed too anymore, when we were doing shows in the states. We were doing a lot of openings for headliners down there with whoever. There was a lot of pressure on an opening act and half the time they don't give you much monitors either. So the combination of a lot of things basically took its toll. What people don't realize, by that time we did break up. We were all like 26, 27. A lot of us had been playing pro for 10 years. We were like professional high school dropouts. So that was a factor as well.

GB - What did you do after the band broke up?

EJ - I ended up in the audio industry. Bud works for the City of Toronto, Bill stayed in music. Terry has had some health problems so he hasn't been too active in anything. I ended up playing with a girl named Rita Turelli for a while. A started playing a lot of blues. That was my first love. I used to play with a group called King Biscuit Boy before I got together with Moxy. I kind of went back to that. I call it the afterlife. After rock a lot of guys have a hard time dealing with it after it's done. I had my own hard times dealing with it all of a sudden. I started working in sales and then wholesale and all I kept thinking was, I should be out playing guitar somewhere. It's tough and when you get that close you can almost taste it. Then it's gone. Now we're in the after life and the stupid thing is, now I love playing guitar more that I ever did. I even started taking some lessons again from some of these Steve Vai clones locally. We had a version of Moxy in the early 80's that was a real metal version. We actually ended up doing a few tunes on Moxy V from that band. We did some dates with Anvil and had a ball. I talked to Lips (Anvil Singer) and he can still go play in Germany but playing here is waste of time, as there is just no support. We were talking about doing some dates but I told him we'll go on first, as I don't want you slaughtering our crowd. (laughs) If your guys boo us I don't care. (laughs) I just don't want us getting killed before we get to them. He just laughed.

GB- It was quite sad to here that Bill had passed away

EJ - That was tragic, as it just kind of came out of the blue at him. Bill was a health freak, never smoked, hardly drank, who knows. By doing the album in his studio, it was the only way we could have done it, By him doing that it basically got us out going again.

GB - Was there bad feelings when you were forced to replace Buzz?

EJ - There was a real backlash when that happed. When we first started going out it was hostile. We knew if we didn't get any airplay on the record what was going to happen, and then we were back to playing clubs and it was, ok the end is near. He ended up coming back briefly with the band for a bit and they did another Texas tour. Unfortunately it didn't pan out.

GB - How did you get hooked up with Mike Reno for the Under the Lights album?

EJ - Some girl out west I got hooked up with for three days in a row kept bragging to me about some singer who she said would be great, and we were having problems with Buzz and we needed somebody. She lent me some tapes and he sounded like Paul Rogers on the tapes. We tried a few guys here in Toronto first but nobody quite did it. Mike was good, he came in and did a good job. The problem we had too was mismanagement. One first album was heavy and the second one was soft. Then we went to Ridin' High that was heavy then we went to the next one that was soft. You can't do that.

GB - Were you surprised by the success he later had with Loverboy?

EJ - Hey luck of the draw. What can you say. Mike was a good guy. I don't have any bones about Mike doing anything. I left the band before he did actually. I kind of knew that after the album came out with Mike (Under the Lights) we were toast. The record company just kind of pushed us in that direction and I said, this is not what I envision Moxy when I started it. There was stuff on there that could have been singles but there was an identity crisis. I remember going out and paying some tunes off that and telling the guys I'm going to puke playing this stuff. We go from playing Ridin High to playing a lollipop single.

GB - How did you get hooked up with your current vocalist Brian Maxin?

EJ - Max had worked with Buddy and knew him well. He did the album with us and when it became apparent he was going out on tour with us, that's what happened

GB - Any chance of getting out here to the east coast?

EJ - We have tried and haven't had much response

GB - The first time I seen the band here was on a big arena tour opening for Trooper in 1977. How did that tour go?

EJ - That was a fun tour. They are still doing well at the clubs as they had hits. We would be playing clubs if we had one hit single. If we had one song to hang our hat on.

GB - What do you listen to today for music?

EJ - Dream Theater, Creed, Ozzy. I listen to a lot of new stuff. Slipknot for about five minutes. (laughs) I got the album and it was like, there is a lot of hatred but where's the wicked guitar solos. All you got is a bunch of guys beating the living Sh*t out of power chords for half an hour. It's a rhythm guitar players heyday now.

GB - Do you think hard rock will come back?

EJ - There are forms of hard rock still kicking around like The Hip and all that which forms into the hard rock genre. I'm not one of them guys who say hey its going to come back the way it used to be, as you would be just fooling yourself if you said that. On the next studio album we are going to have to make a change if we hope to get noticed. I'm not worried about trying to get a 20 year old to like our music. I'd like to take it to the ‘every guy' out there. The 30 to 45 year old out there who still likes rock. The bottom line is I told the guys that before we go in and do the next album, we got to have at least one or two killer tunes that we know in the pre-production stage that are going to get airplay. If not, there is no use of going to make an album of filler. Unless your going to get airplay on a couple of tunes, your just wasting your time.

GB - Is the first album still out on CD in Canada?

EJ - No its not. We split up with Pacemaker to go with Bullseye Records. The thing there is that Jaimie (Bullseye Owner) is a promoter too which helps. It's out on Unidisc, as they have the publishing licencing rights in Canada for it, but they are just exporting and not selling in Canada. There's some kind of deal there. We can't do anything there for the time being. The live album basically addresses some of that. We got five from Moxy 1 on the live album. I think you will be surprised at the quality of this album, as it kicks. We intentional went to extra lengths to make sure it was hard and heavy. Cause we also wanted to have something that would sell now as well. We went to Sweden last year and played the Sweden Rockfest which was neat. We were doing some things with Record Heaven over there, but unfortunately things haven't gone the way we would like to. The live album I'm hoping will penetrate in Europe. We are looking for some serious people to get behind it.

GB - And Moxy V has been re-released?

EJ - We just remastered it and put it out on Bullseye Records and added two live tracks as well.

GB - Best of luck with the band Earl it was great talking to you!

EJ - Thank you

Special thanks to Moxy Production Manager and Web Master Rick Isaacson for the use of the photos.

Official Moxy Web Site

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