Smoke Up Johnny is back!
OK, so it’s for just one show, a reunion gig Saturday at Whitewater Tavern, but still. Rock fans from near and far should be slam dancing in the streets with joy.
Before shutting down in 2009, the band - singer/ guitarist Alan Disaster, guitarist Corey Bacon, bassist Matt Floyd and drummer Jon Rice - was a refreshing shot of pure hell-raising, rock ’n’ roll adrenaline, sounding like Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, the Dictators and early Replacements partying at the MC5’s house, if MC5 lived in Levy.
Actually, SUJ had to get out of Levy. This was back in the day, during the band’s first couple of practices, but don’t try to pin down a date. These things sort of get hazy over time. Say it was 2004, or maybe 2005.
“We got together in Levy for a couple of practices,” Floyd says. “But the cops got called, so we moved over to Little Rock.”
The core SUJ members had all gravitated toward one another after playing in other bands. Floyd was in Go Fast and Rice, Disaster and original guitarist Andy Conrad were in Queen Cobra. “We were all friends,” says Floyd from the Little Rock home he shares with Disaster, “and we all wanted to play together.”
After Conrad’s departure, Bacon signed up, lending a classic rock counterpoint that complemented SUJ’s raging punk attack.
“When Corey joined, we definitely got less punk and more straight ahead rock ’n’ roll,” Disaster says. “He also brought songwriting to the table, so it wasn’t just me writing everything, and it made things a lot easier.”
Through two brilliant and blistering albums - 2007’s self-titled debut and 2009’s S * * * - Faced on Life on Little Rock’s Thick Syrup label - SUJ brought the rock like Santa brings coal to naughty boys and girls. They shined onstage, playing with an energy and abandon rarely seen outside of an all-out riot; enough to even get kicked out of a Kentucky bar for playing too loud (of course, they wrote a song about it - “Too Loud for Louisville” on S * * * - Faced on Life).
“We toured a handful of times,” Floyd says. “We went on a 10-day jaunt with [Little Rock band] the Moving Front, and we’d do weekends, Thursday through Saturdays, where we’d get out and about. And we did the Foxboro Hot Tub thing.”
Ahh, yes, Foxboro Hot Tubs, otherwise known as Green Day. When the California pop-punk kings, along with fourth member and Little Rock native Jason White, did a club tour as the Foxboro Hot Tubs in 2008 (and actually opening the tour at Juanita’s in Little Rock), they tagged SUJ to open a string of dates that followed. “Jason got us to open the show at Juanita’s, and they just said, ‘Follow us around these shows in the South,’” Floyd says.
There wasn’t a huge blowup concerning SUJ’s demise, just a shifting of priorities. Day jobs. Families. Careers. And after the SUJ split, Floyd and Disaster formed Sweet Eagle, while Bacon and Rice started Wicked Good.
“I’ve been in a handful of bands, but this was the most disappointing breakup I’d ever been through,” Floyd says. “So it’s really nice these days when we can do something like this.”
Indeed, this is the third time the group has regathered for a show, with a couple of one-off reunions taking place over the years. And a pair of SUJ songs - “Sunday Beer” and “Too Loud for Louisville” - were featured in director Jeff Nichols’ film Mud.
“It brings back a lot of memories of crazy times,” Disaster says of recent rehearsals and getting the songs in shape. “I was very nervous about this for a while, but we’ve gotten to the point where we’re nailing the songs.”
Floyd promises a quintessential SUJ live experience.
“We’re pulling out all the stops,” he says. “It’s gonna be like every Smoke Up Johnny show, plus some surprises.”
Smoke Up Johnny Opening act: Canehill Engagement 9 p.m., Saturday, White Water Tavern, 2500 West Seventh St., Little Rock Admission: $10 (501) 375-8400 whitewatertavern.com
Weekend, Pages 35 on 12/19/2013
Print Headline: Smoke Up Johnny going full tilt for reunion