Running the gamut

Johnny Juxo rocks and rolls and swings and . . .
By BOB GULLA  |  March 29, 2006

THE CAT IN THE HAT Johnny Juxo, between gigs.You may have seen him recently sitting in with Black Honey, but didn’t realize it. Or maybe you saw him pounding keys at a Big Nazo gig, but didn’t know it was him ’cuz, well, they wear fake heads. Or maybe you caught him backing Diane Blue, but were too busy listening to Diane to wonder who that great piano player was. If you’re looking, you’ve seen him with the Top Cats, and then, just maybe, you could put a name to the face. The fact is Johnny Juxo is one of those local heroes you don’t recognize readily. But that doesn’t make him any less critical to the scene. Few musicians in and around the area are as invested and integral to the scene as he is. A few years ago, I called Juxo one of the hardest-working men in local music, and he continues to keep up that pace today. “I’m grateful for the chance to do so,” he says.

Juxo began in the punk and post-punk scene oh-so-long ago, with some near-hits and wild misses, including the Mumbling Skulls, Big World, and the Flying Ditchdiggers. But what he did earn was experience, time on the keys, which today has allowed him to guest on a vast array of projects, from loud rock and theatrical craziness to jazz, blues, R&B, and swing. Heck, there isn’t much this piano player can’t do and do well. Today, many projects keep him busy, especially Big Nazo, which plays big shows on big stages and includes travel. “I’ve got a handle on the show and every now and then the band adds a new song or two,” he says. But it’s not so taxing, fortunately, that he can’t make time for other pursuits, a fact important to his involvement. He gets together with his Ditchdigger buddies once in a while, sits in with Otis Read down in Newport, and welcomes whatever else, studio or live, comes his way.
“My biggest love right now and ultimate plan for this year is to continue to write and find songs for Top Cats,” says Juxo. “There’s a lot about the Dixieland-swing-jazz, three-vocal approach that keeps Jan [Schmidt], Tommy [Casso], and me playing both small rooms and big halls as often as we possibly can. It’s been going for about two years now and I’d love to see that keep growing.”

With his rock background, Johnny still loves the one-set-and-out action of hot ’n’ heavy club nights. Black Honey, led by Don McCann, is Juxo’s rock vehicle. “It’s original and it’s challenging,” he admits. “It’s got a modern/retro style, like the Black Crowes 10 years ago.” Lately, the band’s peppered its originals with telling covers like Tull’s “Hymn 43” and Humble Pie’s “99 Lbs.” “It’s a chance for me to play loud and rock. It’s not my music, but it’s a chance to use both my keyboards to add as much as I can create, and have it go out to a new generation of rock audience.
“I guess I could spend all my time working on my main musical muse,” he continues, “but I enjoy everything I do. Playing and recording and performing with as many talented people as possible is a great way to express yourself and grow as a musician. It’s all helping to keep me where I want to be, which is playing music I love.”

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