BRATTLEBORO >> When I asked Colorway's F. Alex Johnson about his band's approach to playing live, his answer exuded a rock attitude: "Well, you're only as good as your last show. And our last show was pretty unbeatable."
That is good news for area rock fans since the trio is coming to Brattleboro for the first time tomorrow night on the heels of its most important and impressive gig. According to Johnson, their guitarist/singer/songwriter, Colorway rose to the occasion, opening a sold out show for Foreigner at the Calvin Theater in Northampton back on May 6. "My fiancé said she was so nervous for me and so were the people around the theater who helped me land the gig. But I was so sure of the band and the material and what I've worked for these past three years not to mention my eight years of sobriety, that I just went out there in front of 1,200 people who didn't come to see us and put on 33 minutes of a rock show that felt like it belonged absolutely."
For Johnson-a veteran performer with about 30 years of experience-reading an audience is old hat and he knew that he and his rhythm section connected with the Foreigner fanatics. "Believe me, I've opened shows where you can sense an unease and restlessness by the crowd who just want to see the headliner but these folks just understood that here are three guys who just love music—that they've played it all their lives and they probably will forever. And they got it. They actually got it. And I couldn't have been prouder, happier or more thankful."
"I know in the rock world smiling isn't "cool" but I was ear-to-ear and so were my guys (bassist Matt Clegg and drummer Riley Godleski). It was like a surprise celebration of songs very few people knew . . . but they got it by the middle of the first song and that's why I do this thing we're talking about here."
Johnson, who has several years of experience performing in front of large audiences as the guitar player for the renowned Young@Heart Chorus, has fond memories of rocking the region's small clubs. "As for Brattleboro, I rocked those streets in my 20s (read: the 1990s). Drunk Stuntmen (actually Soup for a time) played the Common Ground and The Mole's Eye and a few other places I can vaguely remember. It was an awesome town to play and to hang out in.. But it's been so long and I know places have closed or had fires or whatever and the scene has changed. But music is music and if you make good sounds people will come to see you. That's what I'm hoping for: make good sounds and have people hear them. That's pretty much my life's mission."
Johnson's mission was almost scuttled by the demons that derailed many a rocker: drugs and alcohol. "I went through some major life changes about ten years ago. I lost my mom and aunt to cancer within 18 months of each other. I had been in a successful local band (Drunk Stuntmen) for 15 years and was touring non-stop with the Young@Heart Chorus. But the booze and the drugs caught up to me and I had to give up the Stuntmen. The lifestyle involved was just too much for me and I needed to just step away from it."
It took about four years of soul searching and abstinence for Johnson to feel like he could start making original music again. "I met the love of my life and one day the songs started pouring out. I contacted two of my oldest and most musical friends, Dave Hayes and JJ O'Connell, and we put the band together. But, Dave had to step away for personal reason and JJ was just too in-demand so last summer I had to regroup. Thankfully I found a rhythm section that already played together in Shokazoba and knew each other's quirks."
By finding love, sobriety, and a band, F Alex Johnson is back to doing what he does best: making tasteful rock music. And Colorway is on its way, with a new line-up touting "Black Sky Sequined" a strong new CD. "I'm doing what I love." added Johnson. "I hope it can sustain me for the long term and that I can somehow continue to create and to have my art support me. It's been my goal in life since I got my first round of applause for a soft shoe routine I did at age four or five at Durgin Park in Boston. I heard those claps and knew they were for me. I looked at my mom and she was beaming. I know she's still beaming and, well, I never really stopped dancing, I guess."
Colorway will be at Metropolis on Friday, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., 55 Elliot St. Brattleboro. There is no charge, but must be 21 or over.
For information call 802-254-8500 or visit www.colorwaymusic.com.
Dave Madeloni writes music reviews for the entertainment section of the Brattleboro Reformer.