Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Johnny Iguana
Johnny Iguana grew up in Philadelphia, where he studied piano from age eight and played piano and organ in blues bands from age 16. He moved to New York City at age 22, where he met one of his greatest musical heroes, Junior Wells. He was hired by Junior after auditioning live at the Boston House of Blues, and moved to Chicago in February 1994. He toured with the Junior Wells Band for three years, toured with Otis Rush and recorded with Carey (and Lurrie) Bell, Lil’ Ed and more.
Johnny went on to play on Grammy-nominated albums by Junior Wells, Chicago Blues: A Living History and the Muddy Waters 100 Band, and he played all the piano on the “Chicago Plays the Stones” album (2018). Those releases saw Johnny play on record with Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Derek Trucks, Gary Clark Jr., Johnny Winter and more. Now, after appearing on dozens of blues albums released by other artists, Johnny is set to release his debut blues-piano album as a leader in 2020 on the legendary Delmark Records label. “Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular!” features Lil’ Ed, John Primer, Billy Boy Arnold, Bob Margolin, Matthew Skoller, Billy Flynn, Kenny Smith, Bill Dickens and Michael Caskey.
All along, Johnny has also had his own decidedly non-blues rock bands, sometimes playing his distinctively grimy overdriven organ. First came Stevie Lizard & His All-Reptile Orchestra (late ’90s). Then came the nationwide cult favorite oh my god (see discography and press quotes). His band Them vs. Them, formed with JQ of the Q Brothers, recorded and performed after that. The synth-fueled Software Giant came next.
Since late 2010, Johnny has been recording and touring with his “garage cabaret” band the Claudettes. who started as a piano-drums instrumental duo with Michael Caskey and have now released three recordings as a four-piece with Berit Ulseth singing and Zach Verdoorn singing and playing bass and Bass VI. For their first four records, go to their Yellow Dog Records page. For their latest, visit Forty Below Records. On his blues tours and his tours with the Claudettes and oh my god, Johnny has played all over Europe, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, Indonesia, all across Japan and in the Middle East.
A short list of Johnny’s major musical inspirations: Otis Spann, Jay McShann, Ray Charles, Mose Allison, Bobby Timmons, Mike Watt, Bob Mould, Joe Strummer, Captain Beefheart and the near, dear, late, great Junior Wells. Johnny is a proud carrier of tradition (including the Chicago blues that uprooted him from his East Coast home and planted him firmly in the Windy City) but is even more proud to have developed abusive organ tones and a highly rhythmic, very “in-the-moment” piano style that sounds like no one else.