Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Johnny Iguana of The Claudettes
Wielding a one-of-a-kind, piano-powered roots-pop sound, the Claudettes merge earthy blues and soul with pop hooks and punk spirit, writing an intriguing new chapter in American roots music.
Raised in Philadelphia, pianist/songwriter Johnny Iguana first gained renown as pianist for blues giant Junior Wells and as the co-founder of cult-favorite punk-organ band Oh My God. Johnny has since toured or recorded with Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Johnny Winter, Derek Trucks, Keb’ Mo’, Gary Clark Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, James Cotton and more. He has played on three Grammy-nominated albums and earned a 2021 Blues Music Award nomination for Piano Player of the Year.
Johnny co-founded the Claudettes with Michigan-born drummer Michael Caskey, a Downbeat Magazine award winner and five-time Detroit Music Awards recipient who has performed with Chuck Mangione, Koko Taylor, Marvin Hamlisch, John Sinclair, Heritage Blues Orchestra, Eastern Blok and more. Michael also toured as drummer for Johnny’s rock band Oh My God, as did South Dakota-born bassist/singer Zach Verdoorn. Zach toured prolifically with the bands Sleepeater and the Kickback before hitting the road with Oh My God and joining the Claudettes.
Minneapolis-born Berit Ulseth was singing in a Chicago country band when Johnny met her and first heard her sing in 2016. He immediately asked Berit to join the Claudettes, and she has now been the band’s lead singer on three albums, an EP and hundreds of live shows. Armed with the technique of a jazz singer (she attended the prestigious New School in NYC for jazz vocal instruction) and the soul of a country singer, Berit has what Johnny believes to be one of the most alluring voices in roots music today.
After releasing two mostly instrumental albums and a live EP (which was their first recording featuring Berit), the Claudettes recorded their 2018 album “DANCE SCANDAL AT THE GYMNASIUM!” (Yellow Dog Records) with Grammy-winning producer Mark Neill (Black Keys). In 2020 the Claudettes released “High Times in the Dark” (Forty Below Records), helmed by Grammy-winning producer Ted Hutt (Violent Femmes, Old Crow Medicine Show). The Claudettes worked with Hutt and with Grammy winner Kevin Killen (David Bowie, U2, Elvis Costello) on a slew of new tracks that will arrive in 2022: a series of single releases from spring through summer and a full-length album on Forty Below Records in the fall: “The Claudettes Go Out!”
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