It was twenty five years ago this year that “Singer at Large” Johnny J. Blair signed a recording contract and released the album DOOR IN THE WATER. Blair said, “All I can do is quote Jerry Garcia: ‘What a long strange trip it’s been.’”
While working on a new album for 2010 (I LIKE THE STREET), Blair realized he’d hit a Silver Anniversary as a recording artist. He had DOOR IN THE WATER remastered by Mind’s Eye Music Studios (in Williamsport) and issued it a download album on bandcamp.com.
Receiving positive reviews in Canada, Europe, and the USA, DOOR IN THE WATER was a “New Wave concept album.” It was Blair’s first full-length project, after a string of singles, demos, EPs, and field recordings–including work with members of The Tubes and making a live recording of Nico (Velvet Underground).
Water motifs and redolent choral themes run throughout DOOR, inspired by cornerstone “concept albums” such as PET SOUNDS (Beach Boys) and THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY (Genesis). Post-punk rock reverie flows next to visionary melodicism, urban satire, and bittersweet spirituality.
Blair recalls, “I started this album in San Francisco, but the record company didn’t like the California tracks–said they were too experimental and ratty. So they sent me to Knoxville, Tennessee to work at a large studio that The Jacksons used as a rehearsal space for their ‘Victory’ tour. I got to borrow Michael Jackson’s Yamaha DX7 keyboard and I sprinkled it generously on the record. The session players were blues and country guys. I played them records by Big Country and The Clash so they’d ‘get it,’ and they nailed the parts in less than three takes.”
The reissue comes with bonuses. “I’ve added some of the pre-studio demos from 1984 plus several tracks from 1986 with a back-up band October, and an a cappella rockabilly-doo wop-gospel tribute to Dion & the Belmonts, ‘Everybody Needs Jesus Instead.’”
Radio favored the rollicking, satirical “One Planet-One Utopia-One Helmet.” Said Blair, “The title came from a bumper sticker. It reflects on living in San Francisco and working with members of The Dead Kennedys. Their lead singer, Jello Biafra, ran for mayor and actually got votes. The music and lyrics are influenced by The Kinks. The abstract words are like a Ray Davies-cum-T.S. Eliot-cum-evangelical subcultural take on elections. I still get requests for this song.”
The reissue of DOOR was prompted by demand and “me getting tired of seeing it at record auctions when I never saw royalties from retail sales, even though it sold on four continents,” said Blair. “I felt vindicated when one of my favorite singers, Sir Cliff Richard, wrote me a nice letter in support of the song ‘Please Don’t Wait Too Long.’ That made me forget other heartaches.”