"Tell me what you think of this song." I walked up to a well-dressed woman in an elite shopping district in California. "I'm doing a documentary on a musician named Jonny Kaplan and I want opinions of his music." The woman told me she was fifty-seven and didn't know if she would be of much help. She seemed more interested in the gourmet, soft pretzel she had just purchased, but did agree to my proposition. I handed her a pair of headphones and, soon enough, the song Ride Free began to play. She took another bite of pretzel and wiped the mustard from her face as she soaked in the song. Then, the woman smiled, looked at me, and shouted like she had the correct answer on a game show, "IS HE A ROCK STAR? HE SOUNDS LIKE A ROCK STAR."
Turns out, Pretzel Lady was correct. Jonny Kaplan is a rock star. He may not have the platinum albums... yet, but the guy plays real rock music. In fact, his music wreaks of 8-track players, Trans-Ams, and decal jersey t-shirts. The sort of stuff you would have seen in the parking lot of a Led Zeppelin concert. Put the music aside, and Jonny is a tall, lanky, long haired-hippie who struts around bellbottomed and barefoot. Countless times in various countries, he and I have walked into a coffee shop or gas station and people immediately seem compelled to ask the same questions:
"Is he in a rock band?" My response; "Yes, he is. It's his band; they're called The Lazy Stars. "
"Well, what's his music like?" I usually say, "It pretty much sounds like he looks: It's The Rolling Stones, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and so forth."
"Well, does he have any records out?" ....
Usually at this point, my bladder reminds me why I walked into the place to begin with, so I politely end the conversation.
But Jonny's story goes something like this:
He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He listened to Aerosmith, The New York Dolls, The Ramones, and, of course, Gram Parsons. He once lived in New York City and now resides in Los Angeles. Truth be told, Jonny is the kind of guy that will go anywhere something interesting will take him.
He has two records. The first one is called California Heart. It's a country-flavored record that's in the vein of The Flying Burrito Brothers. It's the kind of country record that you associate with weed, whites, and wine (No classic rock lyric left unturned). Simply put, it's as good as a debut record gets.
His new record is called Ride Free and it's a rock record. There's a touch of that Gram influence, but one listen to the title song and you'll know what I mean by rock. There's lyrics like "Brother, can you spare a dime? My tank is getting low. I've got to make the county line and play tomorrow's show."
It's Easy Rider. It's Sam Peckinpah. It's the kind of rock music that was made when musicians were choking on their own vomit.
Okay, you're probably not walking and reading, but if you are, watch where you step because I'm about to drop some names. Keith Richards, Emmylou Harris, Wilco, Evan Dando, Shane McGowan, and lots, lots more!! That's just some of the people with whom Jonny has shared the stage. All this is impressive, right? Sure it is, but when it's all said and done, the people he plays with in his own band matter most.
Three other guys make up the Lazy Stars. Different versions of the band have existed, but this seems like the one that's in it for the long haul. Rik Sanchez plays guitars. He used to be in a band called The Poorboys. As one fan told me, 'Rik is a Guitar God.' Joey Galvan, formerly of The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, plays drums like a 'son of a bitch' (I told myself that). And new to the band is a young hippie bass player named Jokin. We have taken to calling him Dr. J. This is a band destined to have their name scrawled on the walls of public restrooms. And that's a good thing.
With the new record and this band, Jonny Kaplan seems destined to become the rock star he was born to be.
On a recent European tour, he was interviewed on the radio. After a series of questions, the disc jockey inquired about long-term goals. Without hesitation, Jonny responded, "World Rock and Roll domination" The D.J. found this hysterical, but stopped when he realized he was the only one laughing. There was an awkward silence in the booth and on the air. 'World rock and roll domination'? Jonny Kaplan wasn't kidding.