I’ll be the first to admit that Heavy Metal isn’t the usual music I listen to. Sure, way back in a previous century I’ve rocked out to Led Zep (first 3 albums, at least) and had my share of Steve Vai-wannabee moments, but I certainly do appreciate good guitar playing, whatever the genre. I’ve recently had several chances to watch and play with Ken Johnson of Blitzkrieg. I’ve only known Ken a few months, and I haven’t seen him play with Blitzkrieg yet, (European dates recently announced in support of recent release Theatre of the Damned) but I have sat in with him in Dirty South (the loudest band I’ve ever played with!) and every month we meet up at Crook Buskers where, apart from playing some great guitar on an assortment of rock covers, Ken offers the use of his gear to anybody who needs it and is very supportive of the many young musicians who might be playing their first ever gig. I took the chance recently to ask Ken some questions about equipment, his background and influences and, of course, Blitzkrieg.
Blitzkrieg have recently announced some tour dates for the UK & Europe – how will you prepare for the tour?
Hi Gary … thanks for the invite firstly … We will probably start rehearsing mid-March I reckon and rehearse the set that we decide to play from that moment on, normally 1 hour 20 minutes
Do you have a set routine for practising?
Not really – once the tracks are chosen and the order, we just seem to rehearse it as a set through and with any between tracks stuff we might need to address
You’re endorsed now by Dean Guitars and Peavey Amplification – can you tell us which of their equipment you’re using?
Yeah sure, from Dean I’m using a Dean Vendetta 4 with floyd rose and also a Dean Razorback V with explosion finish.
As for amps, yeah, they’re Peavey 6506+ and 5150 Mark 2 heads with 6505 Peavey cabs
Are they stock guitars and amps available to anybody or have they been modified in any way?
They’re both just stock, both have floyd rose locking trem units
The Vendetta is fitted with DiMarzio super distortion p/ups and the Razorback V is fitted with EMGs
You have some other guitars too – I’ve played your black Les Paul and your Kramer Pacer. What can you tell us about them?
Well, the old Kramer Pacer I have had for years (1984 to be exact) I absolutely love this guitar, its a typical strat-ike guitar with 2 single coils (stock) and 1 humbucker (seymour duncan george lynch screamin demon) fitted – I love the feel of the neck and also the sound I get from it. The Gibson Les Paul Standard is just all stock fitted, just removed the pickup covers that’s basically all. As for strings all guitars are fitted with 10s
That Kramer seems to have quite a stocky neck on it – thicker than most new guitars I guess – why do you like it so much?
I think it’s simply because I love the feel of the neck and it sits just right for me. Also as I mentioned I do really like the sounds I can get from it – always have … funny that even when it was just the pacer and the les paul, the les paul was the backup!
I’ve used your effects board too – lots of Boss on there – can you give us a run through what you use?
On my very basic board I’m using
Boss Noise Suppressor
Boss Digital Delay
Boss Chorus Ensemble
Boss Graphic EQ (which I use for giving me a bit of lift for my solo parts)
MXR EVH phaser
sometimes I have a Jim Dunlop 535 Cry Baby in there too
All the pedals go vis the FX send/return apart from the Cry Baby that goes direct into the front of the amp
Will you be using the same effects on the Blitzkrieg tour?
Yes I will, minus the Cry Baby of course
Any other bits of kit that you particularly like?
Yes, not so long ago I got a new Nady wireless system that I have been using on/off with The Dirty South, but will probably be using it on the Blitzkrieg dates in April as well
You mentioned that you also play in Dirty South – that band seems like a lot of fun – what do you like about playing with those guys?
Great bunch of lads, its fun and I really do like southern rock so when the oppportunity came along ..
I have to say I really enjoyed my chance to sit in with the band!
And you put in appearances at several Buskers sessions locally – they’re a lot of fun too.
Yes Gary I totally agree, I think buskers sessions are fun and its great to see young bands turn up and run through a few tunes, cos its all about experience and you could say playing at a certain live/stage volume also helps them as well .. always fun to see the Pixies and the Unnamed .. and of course it is ways a blast to jam with your mates on standard rock covers
Who got you started playing guitar?
Oh I’m blaming Ace Frehley from Kiss, when I first got into hard rock in a big way, Kiss could do no wrong … and of course I wanted to be Ace!!
And who do you enjoy listening to now?
Probably too many to mention here but at the moment I would say I was listening to the following quite a bit.. Dream Theater, firewind, Edguy, Judas Priest, Symphony X etc
You were playing in the North East rock scene for quite a while before you got the gig with Blitzkrieg – who were you playing with?
Wel just prior to joining Bitzkrieg I was in a hard rock covers band caed Meanstreak (doin stuff like Journey/Toto/Jovi/Kiss etc), and before that there was another meta covers band called BLAST, and also a Kiss tribute band called Knights in Satans Service that were about for a couple of gigs, plus countless more bands that have evolved since I first started in bands
And how did you get the Bitzkrieg gig?
Prior to joining Blitzkrieg the only band member I knew was drummer Phil Brewis, I was over at a local venue in South Shieds one night to see an AC/DC tribute band and Phil approached me and asked coud he have a word – he mentioned that their longstanding guitarist Tony Liddle had left and would I be interested in auditioning; I went for the auditions and surprisingly got the job. That was back in 2002.
What have been the highlights since you joined Blitzkrieg?
Without a doubt playing to 70,000 in 2007 at Wacken open-air festival in Germany, supporting both Saxon and Doro Pesch on tours in the UK and also playing Sweden Rock Festival alongside Nugent/Whitesnake etc.
After the tour, is there another album in the works?
If I’m thinking correct here .. I think a new Blitzkrieg abum will not be in the works unti 2009, maybe record it late spring for a late summer release .. though nothing official as of yet. I think we have some mileage to get out of the Theatre of the Damned release in 2008 firstly though.
Thanks a lot Ken, I’ll catch up with you at the next Buskers!