Americana Highways brings you Jeremiah Johnson’s 2020 European Tour Diary, ahead of his forthcoming album release for Heavens to Betsy (Ruf Records). Follow along with weekly updates until it’s over! https://www.jeremiahjohnsonband.com
1/27/2020 – 11pm Central Time
So here I am sitting at the terminal at St Louis Lambert International Airport watching all the different people walk about. As I wait to board the plane to Dallas, I am thinking about this journey ahead of me. But more importantly I think about the sacrifices my wonderful family make when I leave on tour. Moments ago, I held my fiancée in my arms for the last time and I gave my 4-month-old baby boy a kiss and one last squeeze. I know it’s not the last time I will see them. But I can’t help but think about how life can end at any moment and how much I will miss them. Especially considering Kobe’s death in the chopper crash yesterday, you just never know. I don’t live my life in fear of the unknown and I have a job to do; both things I hope to teach my boy. But how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
I can’t sleep on planes for some reason. After a long flight to Germany I landed in Frankfort, at was now suddenly 8am and this would have been 1am for me in St Louis. My body was feeling hungover from sitting and feels like it is ready to shut down at any moment. I am surviving on the tiny package of pretzels they gave me. Not only am I uncomfortably close to the big guy next to me, but I can’t feel my ass anymore from the uncomfortable seat that is basically as thin as a poor mans life preserver. If the plane goes down, I am expected to pull this thin cushion from the seat to save my life. Based on the way my ass feels, this isn’t very reassuring. Thankfully, I landed in Frankfort Germany safely and I am looking forward to start working with the Blues Caravan band members and thankful for this opportunity.
I am tired and my sleep patterns are 7 hrs. off everyone else, but I am scheduled to get right in the studio and begin working on my set. The other members of the group have been here for days now and have already worked out their sets. It’s time to get to work, if it was easy everybody would be doing it.
After two days of rehearsals, we are well on our way to having this show ready for the stage. The Blues Caravan consist of three signed artists on the Ruf Records label and two additional backing musicians who round out the Blues Caravan Band. Vocalist Whitney Shaw from San Diego California, vocalist and guitarist Ryan Perry from Mississippi, Roger Iniss from the UK on bass, Amanda Dal from Sweden via the UK on drums and myself. We have a long day of rehearsals set for tomorrow and we start the month long tour Friday. I am excited about this talented group and expect the show to be fantastic. Considering how I felt after the flight, things are looking up. I can finally feel my ass again, the jet lag is getting better and the beer in Germany is fantastic. I am in good spirits, drinking warm beer, eating gummy bears and watching American Pickers with German voice overs on the tele. Goodnight from Bad Sooden-Allendorf Germany.
Last night’s venue was on the border of Poland, about as far East Germany you can get and surrounded by countryside. The place was packed, and I understand people drove long distances to see the show. Which doesn’t surprise me, considering the vast farmland and pine tree forests we drove through to get here. I was taken back for a moment when this gentleman came walking towards me with a huge smile. He had the look of a man on a mission. He was wearing an insulated blues jean jacket that was unbuttoned and he had a handful of CD’s. He called out my name and opened his jacket to reveal one of my T-shirts! He then explained he traveled 300 kilometers from Poland to see me and he has every one of my CDs. In fact they were all in his hand for me to sign them. I was blown away. It’s fascinating to think that I have made a special connection through my music with someone who lives in a completely different country and from a different culture. It really sinks in that we all have more in common than one might think. I am still feeling blessed about this guy today as we ride to the next city for the show tonight.
It’s so strange to be 7 hrs. difference in time from my home in St. Louis. I have been trying to manage my bands business, talk to my family and basically keep up with my life back home. It’s noon here now and 5 am back home. Think about this… The Earth spins at an incredible 1000 miles per hour, while traveling at about 66,660 miles per hour in its revolution around the sun. I am so far away from home, that even at those speeds, my sunrise is 7 hrs before my family will see the first rays of light peeking over the horizon in St Louis.
We had a fantastic show last night in Oberhausen at Zentrum Altenberg. The venue is the site of the former zinc factory Altenberg. The old factories massive crane system is still hanging above the audience, with massive 20’ arched windows on both sides. Re-purposing old factories and buildings is something they seem to do well in Germany. “Before the war”, this area was the largest industrial area in all of Europe. That’s something you hear regularly when Germans describe places in Germany. “Before the War” this city was this or that. In fact, Germany would have some of the most beautiful old cities in Europe if they weren’t bombed into ruble by the Allied forces. So here and there, some of the older buildings that survived the bombing. Like most European cities, the Altenberg area has a long history that goes way back. The area was first strongly populated between 1300 and 700 BC, reminding me that change is nothing new to civilization.
Berlin. Germany is the capitol and largest city in all of Germany. Much like New York, Berlin is a “world city” of culture, politics, media and science. You can find people from all over the globe and eat nearly any kind of food imaginable. As I walk the streets, I can hear people speaking in all kinds of different languages and I am reminded how far away from Missouri I am. Last night we had thel honor of performing at the world-famous Quasimodo and I can appreciate the legendary talent that has graced the stage. We had a real nice turn out and the show went off without a hitch. With only 5 hrs. of sleep we are back in the van and off to the next venue. Leaving Berlin, we pass the old East/West border and I am reminded that the city was once surrounded by the Soviet-controlled East Berlin and East Germany from 1961 to 1989. In fact, I understand that there was only one highway in from West Germany and this highway had guarded walls on both sides preventing anyone from crossing into the East or vis versa. West Berlin was like an island, 100 miles into East Germany, attached by a thin highway and railway. How crazy that must have been to travel in and out back then. (search “Berlin Airlift” to learn more)
Let’s talk about the Autobahn, its official name is Bundesautobahn, which translates to “Federal Motorway” or “Federal Auto Track”. We are currently traveling in a Fiat van at about 85 miles per hour and every so often a car zooms past us on the left. As soon as you see it in the mirror, it’s blowing by you pushing the air against the van, physically moving the entire vehicle. You don’t drive in the fast lane unless happen to own the “Mach 5”. That lane is for the super cars: Mercedes, BMW’s and whatever else that streak of light was that just past us. Despite this fact, I feel safer on this Autobahn than most of the highways in the US and the reason why is really very simple. The cars and roads are all well maintained and newer looking. They also require the large semi-trucks stay in the right lane only. I haven’t seen one clunker hooptie with a dented bumper and a missing quarter panel. The roads are smooth, I can count every pothole we have hit on one hand. Back in St Louis, we have some of the most dangerous cars driving like Mario Andretti. I am talking about a half primer, half painted, 20 to 30 year old, smoke coming from the tail pipe, bungie cord holding the trunk down, expired temp tag in the window, with the spare doughnut tire on the front left side, rearview mirror swinging in the wind on the drivers side, traveling at about 90 miles an hour, on the bumpiest highways in all of the Midwestern USA. I swear they think that they are playing Mario Cart back home in St Louis.
There isn’t much English-Speaking TV on at any of the hotels and last night there were none. So, I clicked around on the TV to see what is on in this part of Northern Germany after midnight. To my surprise I did find two American westerns on and both were Clint Eastwood films. I think one was “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and the other was “For a Few Dollars More”. I have seen nearly every old western Clint has done and I love those movies. I have never seen a Clint Eastwood movie with German voice overdubs, so I thought why not give it a try since my options were so thin. Truth is they don’t talk a whole hell of a lot in these movies and the plot can be followed without any sound at all. So, I waited to see what kind of a “German Eastwood” voice they used to replace the legend himself? On the scale of “Cool Bad Ass Voice”, this German voice over was a 5 and Clint tops the scale at 10. I’m sure there are lots of great American Actors with iconic voices, that you just can’t find a voice over that can do them justice. For example, what “Non-English Voice” is going to do Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken, Anthony Hopkins or Al Pacino? I guess my point is, leave the original voice and give the viewer subtitles to read. Can you imagine a “German or Russian” John Wayne? I just threw up a little thinking about that. It is not the same movie without these amazing actors true voice inflections and emotion. But whatever, I fell asleep to an old American Clint Eastwood Western voiced over in German and when I woke up the world was moving along just fine. So, I guess it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.
It’s been a real blast sharing these stories from my 1st leg of this tour. I hope I haven’t bored you to death with my ranting on about my tour. I feel blessed to be able to do what I do and somehow manage to feed my family. Maybe I will see you on the road soon, please say hello and let’s have a beer.
Jeremiah Johnson Ruf Records Recording Artist
3X Top Ten Billboard Blues Artist
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