Open Road: Rod Johnson Relishes Cross-Country Adventures on "Looking for a Perfect Trip"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Rod Johnson standing in a field with his acoustic guitar

Rod Johnson credits The Who, David Bowie and Roxy Music as his early musical influences. Photo by Greg Croasdill.

For Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Rod Johnson, a rusty, rattling Ford Econoline van serves as the ideal road-trip companion.

The tank-like vehicle represents carefree, youthful jaunts of the past and promising, independent cross-country journeys of the future on “Telephone Company Surplus Econoline Van" from his latest wanderlust-fueled album, Looking for a Perfect Trip

“I had a friend in high school that had a telephone company surplus Econoline van, and it was just a Michigan Bell van with a logo painted on it," said Johnson, a retired University of Michigan College of Engineering professor. "We spent a lot of time in that van listening to Alice Cooper, and that’s the van that I was thinking of specifically."

“When I do that song, people always laugh when I say the title. They think it’s going to be this jokey song, but it’s not. It’s always fun to watch their expressions change as you go through it.”

Friday Five: i-sef u-sef, Zippy Bop, Brian Seabolt, Chien-An Yuan, Fundamental Sound Co.

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 10-15-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features glitchy R&B created entirely on bassoon by i-sef u-sef, a disco mix by Zippy Bop, acoustic songs by Brian Seabolt, a pre-club mix by Chien-An Yuan, and a massive compilation of tunes recorded at Ypsilanti's Fundamental Sound Co.

 

Modern Soul(s): Vulfpeck collaborator Antwaun Stanley connected with former My Dear Disco/Ella Riot leader Tyler Duncan for a new EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Antwaun Stanley

Antwaun Stanley's powerful voice sounds like it came from another time, cast from the deep grooves of a 1960s R&B record.

That's why it's always a treat when the Ann Arbor singer appears as a featured vocalist with jam-funk-soul stars Vulfpeck or with one of the other bands for which he's associated.

But a new EP, Ascension, shows Stanley taking a big step forward as a solo artist. The record was made in collaboration with Ann Arbor multi-instrumentalist and producer Tyler Duncan. His impressive resume includes leading the Irish crossover group Millish and the dance-rock project My Dear Disco, aka Ella Riot, as well as producing songs for Carly Rae Jepsen and Lake Street Dive.

The EP isn’t technically Stanley's solo debut—he released a gospel album a few years back—but it does showcase his artistic voice in a new way with a modern R&B sound. 

Ascension features three fully developed songs and three largely instrumental interludes. “Speed of Night” recalls old-school R&B, while “Tightrope” offers inspiration through James Blake-like soul-tronica. “Lost in Translation” is the EP's stand-out with its addictive groove, great singing, strong lyrics, and a crackling horn section.

Stanley answered a few questions about the new EP and his other work.

Friday Five: Anest, Kendrick & McKinney Organ Trio, Booker & Bridges DaLight, Mista Midwest, Smiles Like Sewage Fires, Mista Midwest, Adlai

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 10-08-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features soul jazz by the Anest, Kendrick & McKinney Organ Trio, eclectic jams by Booker & Bridges DaLight, grindcore by Smiles Like Sewage Fires, hip-hop by Mista Midwest, and house/electronica by Adlai.

 

Friday Five: Rohn - Lederman, DJ Seance, G.B. Marian, Sean Curtis Patrick, Fred Thomas

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 10-01-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features electronica by Rohn - Lederman, a house mix courtesy of DJ Seance, dark ambient by G.B. Marian, two mixes via Sean Curtis Patrick, and demos from Fred Thomas.

 

George Frayne, who formed country-rockers Commander Cody in Ann Arbor, dies at 77

MUSIC

Commander Cody by Michael Ochs

Commander Cody photo by Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

George Frayne, better known as country-rock pioneer Commander Cody, died in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Sunday, September 26, at age 77 as the result of cancer.

Best known for the Ann Arbor-spawned group Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Frayne was also a fine artist who graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's in design in 1966 and a master's in sculpture and painting in 1968. In between those two years is when he formed Commander Cody and the group became mainstays of the Ann Arbor and Southeast Michigan music scenes, known for their marathon live shows that mixed country, rock, Western swing, and boogie-woogie.

Frayne was born in Idaho but grew up in New York City and Long Island. He came to Michigan to go to college, and because Commander Cody's formative years were in Ann Arbor, many folks in town still associate the band with the city even though the group moved to Berkeley, California, in 1969 and didn't release its first album, Lost in the Ozone, until 1971.

Cody, who was never for a loss of words, was more ambivalent about his place in Ann Arbor's history.

Friday Five: Static, John Beltran, Jevon Alexander, dollyzoom:universe, Killing Pixies

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 09-24-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features punk-glam by Static, techno by John Beltran, hip-hop from Jevon Alexander, electronic weirdness by dollyzoom:universe, and pop-punk by Killing Pixies.

 

Friday Five: Kat Steih, Alex Belhaj's Crescent City Quintet, Loamsy, Luca Miel, Cashmere Washington

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 09-17-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features rock and pop from Kat Steih, New Orleans jazz by Alex Belhaj's Crescent City Quintet, dance mixes by Loamy and Luca Miel, and emo-shoegaze-soul via Cashmere Washington.

 

Featuring Iggy Pop: A compilation of James Osterberg Jr.'s duets & collaborations

MUSIC

Iggy Pop at his wedding at the home of Jimmy Silver, manager of The Stooges, 1969. Photo by Peter Yates.

Iggy Pop at his wedding at the home of Jimmy Silver, manager of The Stooges, 1969. Photo by Peter Yates.
 

Iggy Pop is known for his outrageous stage antics, groundbreaking music, and massive influence on punk rock.

The Ypsi-Arbor native who was born James Newell Osterberg Jr. should also be known as a man who doesn't say no.

Ever.

Need someone to croon on your single? Tell Iggy the time and place and if he needs to wear a shirt.

Need a deep voice to sing-speak words over your music? Mr. Pop will suddenly appear in the studio, tap you on the shoulder, and say, "May I?"

Iggy even performed "Silent Night" with William Shatner—the. man never. says. nah.

I started thinking about Pop's predilection for partnerships after his latest collaboration hit my inbox.

Hammond B3 player Dr. Lonnie Smith is a master of soul jazz, which is not the first genre you would associate with Pop. Probably not even the last genre. But "Move Your Hand" is a single from Smith's latest Blue Note album, Breathe, and it features Pop riding the funky groove by sing-talking through a simple set of lyrics. 

This song follows two other 2021 Pop collaborations: He provided vocals on an alternate version of "I Wanna Be Your Slave" by Italian rock band Måneskin and repeats one word on the garage-rock single "I, Moron" by English duo The Lovely Eggs. (Iggy: "You need me to say 'moron' in 16 different ways? I got you.")

And as I was writing the above paragraphs, I discovered yet another new collaborative Pop effort came out: "European Son" with Matt Sweeney as featured on the new album I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico.

No is not a word Ig knows.

Aside from his work with fellow Ann Arborites the Ashton brothers in The Stooges, Pop's most famous collaboration was with David Bowie, who produced his 1977 albums The Idiot and Lust for Life. Pop also had a big hit in 1990 with "Candy" featuring The B-52s' Kate Pierson from his album Brick by Brick

In 1989, he joined the charity-single bandwagon many years after that was a thing by singing on "Spirit of the Forest," with the likes of Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, and ... Olivia Newton-John, among many others ... to benefit the Earth Love Fund foundation. Then followed that up by participating in a truly awful, Lenny Kravitz-produced, superstar-soaked cover of "Give Peace a Chance" in 1991. (Somehow never single achieved the same cultural saturation as "We Are the World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?")

But there are numerous other collaborations in Pop's career that feature him working with lesser-known or more esoteric artists, some of whom just sample his voice from interviews. I'm sure Iggy doesn't mind. He says yes to everything.

Below you'll find a selection of those recordings—oui, there are a lot of tunes in French—starting with the most recent.

Michigan Marching Band puts on impressive display memorializing 9/11

MUSIC

I spent a lot of time in downtime Ann Arbor on Friday and Saturday, and the town was buzzing with energy for the second Michigan Wolverines home football game of the 2021 season.

The streets were full of students clad in maize-and-blue casual wear as countless khaki-shorted, running-shoe-wearing Michigan Dads carried M Den bags.

I was excited to watch the game, too, but not necessarily for the football. It was because I read a story on September 8 titled "Michigan Marching Band commemorates 20th anniversary of 9/11 with ‘most spectacular halftime show to date.'"

I wanted to see the band, which has only performed twice at a football game since 2019 due to the pandemic, put on a huge show, full of pagentry and making full use of this being one of the few U-M football games to happen at night.

But instead of showing the halftime tribute at the stadium, the TV broadcast featured commercials plus highlights of games by, like, Southeastern Northern Alabama State College vs. Eastern Christian Southern Methodist Commonwealth University as loud men talked loudly over the video clips.

Thankfully, the marching band's spectacular presentation—which included remarkable choreography accompanied by lasers, glowing orbs, and high-powered flashlights—is now on YouTube.