JLP Blues Music
Johnny Laporte
Interview Johnny

Guitarist Johnny Laporte knows how to give a special interpretation to the blues in his own way. Playing and composing in Barrelhouse – inducted into the Dutch Blues Hall of Fame in 2012 – the guitarist has been on stage continuously for more than 40 years. Off stage a quiet man who doesn't get easily knocked off the field. Johnny Laporte is all about playing and preferably as much as possible!

Text: Jan Blaauw - bluesgate.nl

Culture change

“I remember a childhood with birthday parties where there was always food, dancing and music. An uncle played the guitar, a few aunts played the piano and sometimes someone played the saxophone or the accordion. Indonesian songs, that was a wonderful time. Inevitably, Guus and I got into music at such a young age. But indo rock was driven out by English pop, which is why that musical movement has passed us by.”

The guitarist, born in 1952, emigrated with his family in 1958 from Medan, Sumatra to the Netherlands. John remembers that boat trip very well. “I was six when we left for the Netherlands. The boat with which we would make the crossing – The Oranje – was so big that we first had to take a smaller boat. Then climb aboard with rope ladders.” The arrival in the Netherlands mainly meant cold temperatures. Something Johnny wasn't used to. “It was winter and at first we were taken care of in a boarding house in the small Dutch village of Bergen. Food consisted of stew. I was not familiar with such meals and we were not used to them at all, so that was quite unusual.”

Six-year-old Johnny goes through it all. “I didn't know what to expect at all. All the impressions I gained, the changes that an emigration brings. As a child you see it as a great adventure and you just go along with it, not thinking about it. Eventually we went to live in Haarlem where I went to school. There I quickly connected with other children because there was no language barrier. To this day I am still in touch with a very good friend I met in elementary school. I remember he was around our place very often, he almost became family. And, as a Dutchman, he will soon emigrate to Indonesia. This is of course because of all those enthusiastic stories from us!” John smiles about it. “With family roots deep in Dutch and Indonesian history, I actually originated from the VOC.”

The beginning - John the Revelator en Oscar Benton

Playing a guitar himself only occurred to Johnny when his brother Guus Laporte started playing with John The Revelator. Johnny was then fifteen years old and had had piano lessons in the years before. But reading music was not a hobby. "Then I would play the piano and pretend to read those notes. My piano teacher didn't fall for that. John The Revelator originated at the Mendel College in Haarlem. "I went to performances and I thought it was a great band. But after returning from a family holiday in America, Guus found out that another guitarist had been recruited. The band found that one and a half month's absence too long an interruption. Guus was disappointed, but a short time later Oscar Benton was at our door.”"

"Oscar, who lived a few blocks down the road, asked Guus if he was free and if he would like to come and play with him. The Oscar Benton Bluesband consisted of four people at the time and a background guitarist was still needed. So Guus started playing guitar with Oscar. That was around 1968. I regularly went to see performances when they played in the area. Oscar was already known at that time because he had won a prize at the 'Loosdrechts Jazzconcours'. With a record deal linked to that he could record an album. In these days the media offer was only a fraction of what it is now. If you came on the radio, or even on television, there was a good chance that you were actually heard and seen gaining extra notoriety as a result.”


Johnny Laporte himself was not involved in real blues at all. He, like so many at the time, listened to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. “But because John The Revelator and later Oscar came to our house, I watched in the background how the process of making music actually went. I carefully tried to figure out something on guitar, but I found the Beatles too complicated and I really couldn’t figure out the Stones either. Until I understood during my brother's rehearsals that blues only consisted of three chords. I had to be able to get there somehow. So when Guus was gone I would grab his guitar and try to play the chords I had copied. That was a lot easier for me than this whole Beatles thing. I taught myself to play the guitar with the pickup. Needle on, needle off. Of course they were borrowed records. You could throw away the one by John Mayall with Clapton and Peter Green afterwards, haha. Clapton must have been around 20 when he played so well. Not surprising that people later said: Clapton Is God.”

“Because of all that practice I mastered the chords in an acceptable way. I had classmates who were also into guitarplaying. Between us it was like 'What do you play?' They came up with 'My brother plays 'Hide Away' by John Mayall and the Bluesbrakers. My answer was then 'I play that too!' When they arrived at their home, the brother played the song first and in the meantime I was examined with suspicion. Until I played the song on the guitar. Then it was like 'Wow, what's happening here?' And I really didn't master the song very well, but left the brother way behind me! Now, after all these years I know the song inside and out but I still can't get the song to sound like Eric Clapton did back in the day. I keep trying, haha.”br/>
“Guus bought his first guitar at the Wehkamp department store, a Shadow for 85 Dutch guilders. That guitar got me into the blues. At that time I didn't have my own guitar. When I started playing with Oscar neither, I played on a Gibson SG and that belonged to Guus. Later it was stolen at a blues festival in Amstelveen. Then I quickly bought another SG, but it was paid for by Barrelhouse. A few years later I bought the Gibson Les Paul Deluxe which I still use today. My first own guitar!”

Meanwhile, Oscar Benton and his band are doing well. Never change a winning team but Oscar wasn't afraid to turn things around when he saw fit. Or rather when the record company wanted it. John about this: “The record company would say, for example, that ‘you should actually replace the drummer’. That's how it went. A record company was simply dominant. It could happen that they replaced an entire line-up and then a completely different band played your songs. Recording in a studio cost a lot of money and if it didn't go fast enough, they intervened that way. In England that also happened with The Kinks, I was told. Their guitar parts and solos were played by Jimmy Page who was a studio musician at the time. We also had to deal with this in the Netherlands. So Oscar wanted to say goodbye to drummer Lonesome Tanny Lent (Herman Soeverein). And Tanny was one of the best drummers in the Chicago Blues style that I know.”

Johnny Laporte

On stage

At one point Guus was picked up by Oscar for a performance and he invited Johnny to come along and play. "Just in case..." Oscar reported to Johnny. “Oscar didn't know exactly what level I was at, but he understood that I had started playing guitar. And although Oscar frequently changed musicians, he still wanted people from his 'inner circle' on stage.

“We set out for a big venue in Dortmund, Germany. But the performance with that new drummer turned into a complete mess. During the break Oscar shouted 'Guys, we're going to do it completely differently!' Jan Willem Sligting (Jay Walker) went behind the drums, Guus played bass and Johnny played guitar. Han van Dam (Barrelhouse Bailey) remained behind his piano as usual. “Oscar had knocked the whole band over in ten minutes. I knew a few songs from the reportoire, but not all of them. But oddly enough, it all fell into place. I was able to do some guitar dueling with Oscar and it felt good. Those guys in Dortmund were amazed. They had never experienced a band change after the break during a show.”

Tradition does not tell how the drummer finally got home, but John has been in Oscar's band ever since. The beginning of an learning period. In addition, it was customary at that time to work with stage names and since Guus had received Laporte as a surname, it was therefore only logical that Johnny received the same surname from Oscar. "Later Jan Willem Sligting started playing bass because Guus didn't show up after a holiday and, as it turned out, stayed away for years. On drums we invited Art Bausch to come and play. And we toured for another two years in that line-up .”

Solo career

“But Oscar was a very good singer. He was therefore quite interesting for record companies and producers. For example, one of them, Tim Griek – who worked at Bovema, which later became EMI – was responsible for the production of a number of singles by The Hunters with Jan Akkerman. There used to be vague guests at EMI. Boudewijn de Groot was also appointed as producer of The Oscar Benton Bluesband. At a rehearsal he asked Han if he wanted to play one of the new pieces baroque, to which Han said: 'I'm not Rick van der Linden!' Haha. Jaap Dekker also played a piano part instead of Han, a commercial tune. Then he also told me how to play certain guitar riffs, picked up my guitar, did something experimental and said, actually I can't play guitar at all, ... crazy man! And Oscar was constantly getting offers from record labels. He formed a duo with female singer Monica and we were initially playing along withe the both of them as a blues band or play backing with music that was not ours. We went with that flow because it produced many shows and a lot of performances, but it was far from what we wanted to play as a band. Eventually Oscar indicated that he wanted to quit the band to continue solo. At that time, Art Bausch received an offer from 'Smile' to play drums. At the time, 'Smile' was a popular band with hits to their name and Art decided, on the advice of their record company, to switch. Both Art and I played in Oscar Benton Bluesband for over two years. Looking for a new drummer we came across Bob Dros. I recognized Bob by one striking hit on the tom in a break of a song by Ramsey Lewis. ‘This is him!’ I said to Han.”

Barrelhouse in the making

We now live in 1973. The four remaining members decided to continue together. There were still some shows in the agenda and under the name 'The Barrelhouse Bailey Blues and Boogieband' the performances were completed. That took a few months and with reasonable success. “We realized that as an instrumental band, we couldn't keep that up for long,” says John about that period. “If we saw a singer somewhere, we approached them to participate. This is how Shakey Sam (Simon Vlietstra from Franeker) joined us. We ran into him at a blues festival in Amstelveen and asked if he wanted to tour with us.”

After several months of touring with Shakey Sam, the band played in Alkmaar. “A young girl came up to us and asked if she could sing something. We didn't think that was a problem because more people had joined us singing these days. But something special happened with her. Not only we, but also the spectators were quite impressed. We then asked if she wanted to sing a few songs as a guest at the next show – in the Mahogany Hall in Edam.” Tineke Schoemaker had made her way into the band.

Barrelhouse was the upcoming band at that time. Han van Dam had gained the interest of a record company through his exceptional way of playing the piano. Just like he already played in the Oscar Benton period. They wanted to release a solo record with Han on which only he could be heard with that unique way of playing the piano. "Han van Dam didn't like that at the time, but the agreement to make a record was still there." By now the contours of Barrelhouse had become visible. Shakey Sam was given notice to leave and Barrelhouse then consisted of Han van Dam, Bob Dros, Jan Willem Sligting, Johnny Laporte and Tineke Schoemaker. In the first year and a half of their existence they released two albums. On the first album, recorded in the Dureco studios, Shakey Sam still plays a number of songs on harmonica. Recording then went live in one cut. Both records were very well received. The stage landscape was completely different from today.

“In those days the Netherlands was staged for live bands. You had the Bintangs, Livin 'Blues, Herman Brood, Alquin, you name it. There was actually no competition, it all existed side by side. Donkey Shot (our home base), Paradiso and many other stages, it was all run by volunteers. Those venues had their own unique atmosphere, a soul. Unlike today where it should be more impersonal style icons that would not look out of place in a design museum. When we entered a dressing room where the sinks were still hanging crookedly on the wall, we knew that the Bintangs had visited a week earlier. It was a bustling and great time with fun back then, without too much hassle with permits and stuff. Much more free comapared to today.”

Johnny Laporte

Return of Guus Laporte

Just before the recording of Barrelhouse's third LP, Guus Laporte came back into the picture. After a stay of a number of years in Groningen, he had returned to North Holland. In Groningen he had been part of the music scene that took place there, had developed more and more, but had no idea about the many changes in Oscar Benton Bluesband resulting in the birth of Barrelhouse. But he was able to step in immediately and became second guitarist in Barrelhouse. “That was exactly how it should be from the first moment,” says Johnny. “Everything fell into place and it felt really good on both sides. Everyone in Barrelhouse has a role to play. Not because someone enforces it, but simply because it has grown that way. It came about naturally. Without one of us, and it doesn't matter who, Barrelhouse wouldn't be what it is today. The songs are arranged in such an intertwined way that you can't imagine working without them. We all have our part in the in the overall scene.”

Tros Sesjun and Albert Collins

After the launch and success of their third LP, an invitation from the broadcast company TROS fell on the doormat. If they wanted to perform in the TV program TROS Sesjun. Although Sesjun was originally Jazz oriented, they also wanted to show related music styles and blues was one of them. Barrelhouse was asked to come and play... with a guest. The band was allowed to determine the guest themselves. At the request of the band whether it could also be an American, the TROS had to grab deeply into their pockets, but they gave the green light.

John continues: “We then started thinking very hard about who we wanted to bring over from America. We wanted someone who enjoyed coming across and was of our level, to be able to perform as smoothly as possible. And, since we had to act quickly and the gig was just a few steps in time, it had to be someone who was available immediately. At first we came across Otis Rush. The man has written beautiful songs, many in a minor key, and was also regularly covered by the English blues scene. A great opportunity to experience how he played these songs by himself. Unfortunately that was not possible because he did not dare to fly at that time.

Then Han van Dam came up with Albert Collins. Surprised, some of us shouted 'Who the f... is Albert Collins?', hahaha. They had never heard of him. they thought. Han immediately raised his hand. Small correction. For example, Oscar's latest LP features the song 'Draggin Round'. The lyrics are based on the lyrics of 'Conversation With Collins'. And on our first Barrelhouse LP there is an instrumental track 'Harris County Line Up'. That too is an Albert Collins song. Because Han van Dam worked in a record store in Haarlem, he heard a lot of blues music. Also an LP by Albert Collins. It immediately caught Han's interest. So Albert Collins had been in the picture for a while.

Albert's style was quite different from what we had listened to until then. Very different from BB King and Muddy Waters and certainly different from what the English played. According to Han, it was because Albert Collins was a real Texan. Anyway, his way of playing and sound really appealed to us. And we used that instrumental to open our gigs. That is how the idea of asking Albert Collins was born. We really had no idea how his career was going in America. But based on that record, we thought we'd ask him if he was interested in coming to the Netherlands.”

Less than a week later, Albert Collins landed in Luxembourg, was brought to the Netherlands and upon arrival in Donkey Shot, rehearsals started immediately because the next day, February 2, 1978, the live TV broadcast was scheduled.

“Albert asked us 'What are we going to do?' We indicated that we knew two songs by him. Conversation with Collins and Harris County Line Up. On "Conversation with Collins" he started to smile but "Harris County Line Up" didn't mean much to him. And it was, after all, his own number. So I played the intro and very quickly Albert laid down an additional note. He hadn't played the song in a long time, but it started to dawn on him. Those first few notes were so powerful, so insanely timed, that we immediately had the feeling that it will be all right. After going through some numbers, Albert thought it was fine. ′′ It clicks he said so no further rehearsal is necessary. Actually, he just wanted to test his cord. He had a guitar cord on a pulley. So that he could walk into the audience while playing. We had never seen anything like it! And not only us. Because he stayed in the Netherlands for some time, we took him on tour. People fell backwards. Because of his sound but also because of the way he hits his tones. You don't really know what's happening. He played in a special tuning with a capo, always with his fingers and was unique with his sound. Very thick strings, if you shook hands with the man you only felt calluses. And in his pocket a few packs of strings because a few regularly gave up in the blues violence.”

Johnny Laporte


“After the TV broadcast, our record company indicated that they wanted to release a live LP with Barrelhouse and Albert Collins. And so we invited him come over again, toured, made recordings and that's how the ball started rolling in America for Albert. Albert did say at later meetings that when he returned to the States, his prestige had risen enormously because he had played in Europe. For him it meant that he could play not only in Texas but also in Los Angeles and later all over America. It went so fast that he was even able to tour Japan and after his second tour with us he was asked to come and play at the North Sea Jazz Festival. He also publicly thanked us there for the opportunity he had been given to come to Europe. In the end he performed with many blues giants and made many more records. Albert Collins was absolutely one of a kind.”

Hans Dulfer

Accidental encounters within the circuit resulted in the best moments. John remembers a girl, who was still very young at the time, who would experience the start of an impressive music career. “Once we played at a festival in a room with two stages opposite of each other. During the last song of our performance we heard a saxophone play along, over our solos! It turned out to be Hans Dulfer, who was blowing his breath on the stage across the street, great! At our next gig, Hans suddenly showed up, and since then he played with us regularly as a guest and even made time for us. He was tired of the jazz scene and could move freely within the blues. Sometimes Hans brought a friend along. Also a very good trumpet player. Jeff Reynolds. Both have also played on our records. Unfortunately, Jeff died shortly after during a tour, after a performance, due to a traffic accident.

In that period, Barrelhouse played at the Jazz Festival in Breda when Hans approached us with the question: 'Can my daughter play a song? She is eleven and also plays the saxophone, ....alt sax. ' Candy Dulfer had her first stage experience at that time and played her first solo on the song Beware. Epic!”

Seven-year Barrelhouse sabbatical

In 1985, after 10 years of playing in an unchanged line-up, the flame died. Things started to show up that hindered the continued existence of Barrelhouse. Tineke Schoemaker was approached by Rob van Donselaar. Rob, former keyboard player of the Bintangs, among others, had wanted to start something for a long time and needed a female singer. Tineke decided to accept the offer and stopped Barrelhouse. So that she could fully focus on the 'One Two' project. Jan Willem Sligting also decided to leave the band at that time. Johnny about this: “When Jan Willem left the band after eight years, you noticed that Barrelhouse came to a creative standstill. An important link disappeared. We managed to hold on for another two years. But everyone within the 'old' Barrelhouse was and is so decisive for the overall picture, that new blood cannot fill it in. And that is independent of the quality of the musicians attracted.

In the period after the departure of Tineke and Jan Willem, we recorded another LP with singer Jony de Boer, and that gave an impulse towards country, a music style from which Jony came. We almost had a hit. "The Sudden Stop," also sung by Percy Sledge. Frits Spits loved that song. We had not been that high with Tineke. But Tineke scored higher on the charts at that time with the song 'No Song To Sing’.”

Nack to Oscar Benton

Oscar Benton, meanwhile, had not been sitting in silence. His solo career had brought him the European hit 'Bensonhurst Blues'. A song by Artie Kaplan and Artie Kornfeld that Oscar had recorded ten years earlier but then did nothing at all. Alain Delon picked up Oscar's performance for use in the movie 'Pour la peau d'un flic'. When his solo career came to an end, he also started to miss his old bandmates. It was decided that Han van Dam, Guus and Johnny Laporte would rejoin Oscar. With Jos van den Dries on drums and Gé Carlsberg on bass. Again Oscar Benton had a trusted group of people around him and that initially gave a new start to The Oscar Benton Bluesband.

But the artistic direction that Oscar took was not to his liking. “Oscar had contact with people who had nothing to do with the blues. He received offers to cut records with producers who had very different ideas. And we were confronted with the fact that we had to play music that we didn't really support. Did you get albums with catchy titles like 'Bluesparty'. Then you know shit hits the fan. In the end, after five years we decided it was enough.”

Barrelhouse Forty years

At the end of 1992. Bob Dros had managed to give a successful continuation to his drumming career as the drummer of the Gigantjes. And The Oscar Benton Bluesband had stopped in the line-up with Han, John and Guus. In the same period, the boys received a request from an organization in Arnhem. A reunion was organized and because Barrelhouse had performed a lot in that area in the past, the question arose whether it would be possible if Barrelhouse could come and play in the original line-up. It was decided to do so.

“We had the idea that it would only be a one-off,” says Johnny. “We were quite neutral about it. It's never been the case that we couldn't get along with each other anymore, but also felt like Barrelhouse would never return as a band. But that performance was enthusiastically picked up and we received one request after another to play again. We then put our heads together, had good conversations, left midlife crisis behind us, and actually from that time the ball started rolling again. But we made an agreement with each other that we did not want to live on old fame, but that from that moment on we would also try to renew ourselves. Actually a whole new start.”

“In addition, we received the offer from the record company to record a new CD and now we are more than twenty years further, four studio CDs and a live DVD added to our legacy. This year we celebrate that we started Barrelhouse forty years ago.” Barrelhouse has no ambitions to build up a reputation abroad. "It's just that there are too few enthusiastic people abroad for us to fill large venues with," says Johnny. “It sometimes happens that we are asked and if we feel like it we do such a performance, but the main thing is that we have to have fun ourselves. It also depends on your network. Oscar Benton, for example, had Paul Acket as a booking agent for a while. With his many contacts, he could more easily place The Oscar Benton Bluesband abroad.”

Johnny Laporte


In addition to Barrelhouse, Johnny Laporte also plays in bands such as 'Johnny Laporte LIVE' and in 'Johnny Feel Good'. “I just like to play. And the members of these bands are all seasoned blues musicians. If with Barrelhouse the intertwining is the strength, then with these bands it is precisely the spontaneous and unexpected that is the challenge and strength. It is always accompanied by unbridled effort and a lot of energy. And pretty much up until Oscar's passing, we performed with him. Even then you’re invited to the most surprising places. He received great enthusiasm in Romania. That was very special to experience for several reasons. But actually I think that counts for each and every performance in which I'm allowed to participate and as far as I'm concerned I'm far from finished..."

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