ATOM Artist Profile - Jon Butcher/Jon Butcher Axis
Jon Butcher Still Has A Passion For Making Music
By: Scott Kinnison
Originally based in Boston, 80’s rocker Jon Butcher is alive and doing well in the Los Angeles area. Now traveling the country on an acoustic tour and with a new Barefoot Servants CD released, we caught up with Jon to talk about his past, present and plans for the future...
According to Jon, the Jon Butcher Axis, which consisted of Jon on guitar and vocals, Chris Martin on bass and Derek Blevins on drums, paid it’s dues in the early 1980’s by playing all over the greater Boston/East coast area. "We got our big break in two ways. One by being played on Boston’s WBCN, who was great at the time for promoting local music. Secondly, the J Geils Band, specifically Peter Wolf, became a fan and got us to open for the J Geils Band on a national tour. This was all before we even had our first record out. So we went from playing anywhere that would pay us, to 10 to 12,000 people at the Boston Garden. It was quite an experience at the time."
Due to the exposure created by the Geils opening slot, the Jon Butcher Axis signed with Polygram Records and released two critically acclaimed albums, Jon Butcher Axis in 1983 and Stare At The Sun in 1984. Several songs, such as Life Takes A Life, Don’t Say Goodnight, Ocean In Motion, New Man and Victims, received successful FM radio play and/or rotation as videos on MTV. In fact, Jon’s video for Life Takes A Life, from the self-titled album, was one of the first by a black artist to receive airtime on MTV. This was over five years before black rock artists, such as Living Colour, were commonly played on the music channel.
In 1985 the band moved to EMI/Capital Records and released Along the Axis. A song on that album, The Ritual, earned Jon a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Singles and videos were released for The Sounds of Your Voice and Stop. It also marked the last time the Jon Butcher Axis moniker was used (prior to some historical releases over the past few years). The following releases, Wishes (1986) and Pictures From The Front (1988) were simply under the Jon Butcher name. Jon reflected on the reason for the change. "After Chris (Martin) and Derek (Blevins) were no longer part of the band, it didn’t seem right to keep the Axis name. Because the three of us were The Jon Butcher Axis."
Wishes would turn out to be Jon’s most successful album, eventually reaching Gold sales status. "There are a lot of strong songs on that record. It is also an album where I had a lot of control and I think the album turned out better for that fact. Wishes, Holy War, and Goodbye Saving Grace still get a lot of radio play to this day," Jon commented. Pictures From The Front contained the popular songs Send Me Somebody and Waiting For A Miracle, but according to Jon "with that album there were a lot of forces telling us what we should be and what we should sound like."
In 1991, while touring with INXS, the Jon Butcher Axis ceased to exist. "The band had run its creative course, just like any band does, including the Beatles. In addition, there was the strain of me living in California, versus the East coast. Along the Axis was recorded in the Los Angles area and after it was completed, I decided to stay in California." Jon stated.
Looking at the years from 1983 to 1991, Jon was asked why the Jon Butcher Axis never obtained multi-platinum sales success. "Of course I think we deserved to sell millions of records (chuckle); however I believe the problem stemmed in the diversity of the music we made. Diversity can be a blessing and a curse. Diversity helps with your critical success, but it is probably not a good thing for a young band trying to make a name for itself to the masses. But I love all types of music and it is hard for me to not reflect that into the music I produce."
Jon spent the 1990’s on several projects. In 1994, he led a group called Barefoot Servants , which released a self-titled album on Epic Records. Many Butcher fans consider the first Barefoot Servants record their favorite release of Jon’s career.
The band included Leland Sklar on bass, Ben Schultz on guitar and Ray Brinker on drums. "This group was a lot of fun," according to Jon. "We did a tour together and Leland and Ben are great guys and great musicians, so this time in my life has many fond memories." Jon added, "but all of us in Barefoot Servants had careers outside the band, that pulled us in different directions and meant that the group wasn’t going to be a long term thing."
But the friendships and positive experiences of the first Barefoot Servants record have led to a new CD, Barefoot Servants 2, which has been released by ATOM Records in August 2005. Singles from "2" are Love You Too Much and Rude Boy. The current band line-up is the same, except drummer Ray Brinker has been replaced by Londoner Neal Wilkinson. "I am really jazzed about the new Barefoot Servants release. The first album had a definite southern blues influence and this new record is better described as blues in the spirit of Taj Mahal and Led Zepplin. It’s organic and earthy in spots and in other places it flat out rocks," Butcher added.
In the mid 90’s, Jon released two solo blues albums, Positively The Blues and Electric Factory. Jon stated these albums were the result of his desire "to better the capture the style and energy of how we played live. These two albums are more basic than the stuff done earlier in my career and they are a result of the desire to do less tinkering and experimenting in the studio. I look back on my recording career and I try not to be too critical, but there are a few things that make me cringe. It is easy to get into the studio and get into the trap of being too cute with something. I really like the raw energy of playing live and letting natural things come out, versus studio tricks."
1998 saw Razor & Tie issue The Best of Jon Butcher – Dreamers Would Ride, which mostly featured EMI/Capital material. In 1999, a 1987 King Biscuit Flour Hour concert was issued and is a strong testament to the live energy that Jon previously mentioned. In November 2000, Jon released a CD via his web site (www.jonbutcher.com). The disc, called A Long Way Home, is "the long, lost Jon Butcher album." According to Jon, "nine songs on the CD were recorded a few years after Pictures From The Front and were meant to be on the 6th Jon Butcher/Jon Butcher Axis release. But they never saw the light of day until this release." Jon added two new songs to A Long Way Home. The first is an acoustic performance of Wishes and the other is a new song called Mule Driver, which is in the vein of tracks released on Positively The Blues and Electric Factory.
A Stiff Little Breeze was issued in 2001, Jon’s first project with the independent label ATOM Records. This CD resurrected the Jon Butcher Axis name. "I found a tape box of things recorded in the early years and after listening to them, I was surprised how good they sounded. The tunes weren’t released at the time for various reasons, none of which were quality based, but rather politics or some other crazy reason that seemed logical at the time. I still get e-mail, from people all over the world, who have been touched by my music and I thought that those fans would enjoy a little deeper perspective on my recording career. I also threw in five new songs that I think will surprise people."
2002 brought an additional Jon Butcher Axis release, An Ocean in Motion – Live in Boston 1984. According to Butcher, "This live record was to make fans of my first two albums happy, because those records have never been issued on CD. This live disc has seven songs from my first album, three from my second and a version of Not Fade Away, which we often used to close shows in the early days."
Jon’s first DVD video release came in 2004. Live At The Casbah was filmed in December of 1984 at a club in Manchester, NH. Over 70 minutes in length, it contains several songs never released on any Butcher album and songs from Jon’s first three Axis releases. "A friend from the old days (Bob Boyd) came up with this tape and after seeing it I thought fans would have fun seeing footage from the mid 80’s. We digitally re-mastered the video and audio. We are primarily selling it through my web site and places like Amazon.com and CDbaby.com, just as a treat for those that saw us play in the mid 80’s and for those that are curious about my earlier music," Jon commented.
In 2006 Butcher fans can hear several new songs on a compilation produced by Jon’s label, ATOM Records. The CD is called ATOM Records – The First Five Years (2001 – 2006) and on it are a new Barefoot Servants song called The Original Cowboy, Jon’s previously unreleased studio version of the Hendrix classic Up From The Skies and four new live acoustic tracks recorded in 2005… Tiger In The Tall Grass, New Man, Bound For Glory and It Hurts Me Too. Fellow Barefoot Servant Ben Schultz joins Jon on the four acoustic offerings.
Besides Jon’s current acoustic tour and new Barefoot Servants release (Barefoot Servants 2), Jon’s spends a great amount of his time scoring music for television and film (some of these efforts are represented on A Stiff Little Breeze). Some recent projects are doing music for the HBO series Deadwood and A&E’s The Life and Times of Wild Bill Cody. When Jon talks about scoring for television and film, there is a definite excitement in his voice. "I have always included instrumentals on my Axis albums and with scoring; my musical diversity is rewarded by being a blessing and a necessity. There has always been a visual sense with my music, even in the early Axis days and my current work lets me fulfill that vision."
After 20 plus years in the music business, Jon Butcher is a man that
shows no signs of slowing down or fading off into the sunset. The artist
concluded, "I’m enjoying getting back on the road and seeing
old friends and making new ones. My current acoustic tour will hopefully
be followed up with a full band tour of Barefoot Servants in the U.S. and
Europe. My music has evolved into something broader and earthier and it’s
a thrill to expose people to what I am doing today and putting new twists
on some things I recorded years ago."