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!
“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.”
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.”"
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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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