John Davis leaves Superdrag and the rock star life behind
By Jeff Napier
Radio Radio, 1119 E. Prospect St.
Wednesday, March 12, 8 p.m.
I'm not going to claim I understand why rockers turn religious. But I do know one thing: It's better than dying. Except for the Korn dude - he can suck a big one.
And, I suppose a rocker turned Christian who is earnest about it is certainly better and far more nobler than a Christian performer who is preaching the gospel on stage and snorting cocaine off of a hooker's tits backstage.
But for the most part, when rock stars go religious, it seems to kill the creativity in their music. Bob Dylan did have the awesome "Gotta Serve Somebody," but the rest of his Christian albums sucked. True, the good Rev. Al Green still rocked it from the pulpit, but for every Al Green, you get people like Dion, Cat Stevens and, um, that one dude from Grand Funk Railroad finding GOD and promptly stinking up the place. It's kinda hard, nay, impossible, to be a bona fide rock star if you accept that there is a brighter light than yourself.
John Davis, former lead vocalist of Knoxville's biggest-ever rock band, Superdrag, is proving that turning to God doesn't mean you have to give up the rocking. Unlike Al Green, who had a pot of boiling grits poured on his back by a suicidal girlfriend, or Little Richard, who is just straight-up loony, or Bono, who was born God, John Davis had his great awakening driving to get fitted for his wedding tux. Just like that. One day he's a typical alkie rocker and then a "strike of lightning" comes down and he gives it all up.
No more drugs, no more booze, no more Superdrag.
Now touring behind his first post-Superdrag album, simply titled John Davis, Davis is continuing to make the same kind of pop masterpieces and rock and roll dreamscapes that were what made Superdrag such a thrill. Following rather closely to the Head Trip in Every Key blueprint, John Davis, the album, is one that can get under your skin and stay in your brain for days on end. Equal parts Pet Sounds era Beach Boys and "Cold Turkey" era John Lennon, this album is probably the best pop-rock masterpiece ever made for the glory of God.
Tunes like "I Hear Your Voice" and "The Kind of Heart" are lush and fragile symphonies that haven't been made since Brian Wilson sat in his wading pool of sand. "Me & My Girl" (the only song on this set that doesn't deal with Jesus Christ) is the kind of song that Matthew Sweet would give his left nut for, while "Too Far Out" is the kind of pop-punk corker that the Click Five would give Matthew Sweet's right nut for. Meanwhile, Davis unleashes some bluesy rock power on tunes like "Tear Me Apart" and "Salvation." This may just be the first Christian album that filthy pagans can love and enjoy without feeling like they are watching the Ned Flanders clan try to "rock" for Jesus.
On top of all of this, John Davis features what may just be the best, most rocking, most unbelievably hip Christian song ever written in the history of Christian rock. With its awesome opening line, "Every night is a Saturday night and it makes me sick," "Nothing Gets Me Down" manages to be brutally honest, upliftingly positive and bootyfabulously grooving at the same time.
Tonight, John Davis will bring this set of songs to Indy for a show at Radio Radio. I recently caught up with him at his home in Nashville, Tenn., and asked him a few questions.
How are your old fans liking the new John Davis?
The response has been almost entirely positive. I've been very lucky. We generally play to a wide variety of different types: die-hard Superdrag fans from day one, latter-day fans or curiosity-seekers who probably half expect to find me self-righteous, or "religious" or that the songs are crap ... people that never heard of Superdrag but found the record on an end-cap at Lifeway [a Christian bookstore chain] ... all kinds. My aim is to love each one of them equally.
How is it to be on tour, and in some of the same bars and the same towns? Is it hard not to want to relive the "rock and roll" life every now and again?
Absolutely not. By God's grace, I have no desire whatsoever to turn tail and set my feet back onto a path that, for me, only leads to certain death and destruction. I am only interested in moving forward with my life. Proverbs 26:11 says, "Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly."
How did you break the news to your wife and bandmates that you were a changed person?
I just came out with it; I mean, telling the truth is easy.
Did you listen to Bob Dylan's Christian albums while you were making your latest CD?
No, I didn't, actually, though I feel like I probably should. I'm not really up on them like I should be. I liked Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde the best.
Tell me about your tour. Do you have a band? Who are they, where did you find them? Why did you say quitting the juice meant you had to quit Superdrag as well?
Yes, we go out with a two-guitars-bass-and-drums set-up or as a trio, depending on the situation. When I come to Indianapolis I will have Yogi Watts [Demon Hunter, The Lonely Hearts] on the drums and Ethan Luck [Demon Hunter, ex-Supertones] on bass. It's a solid lineup. They were fans of the old records, and they are my brothers in Christ. We had lots of mutual friends and in fact I have the same management as Ethan's old band the O.C. Supertones. When we travel as a four-piece, Josiah Holland [The Lonely Hearts] holds it down on bass and Ethan switches to guitar. These guys are serious. In answer to your other question, quitting the "juice" and quitting Superdrag were two completely different things. One really didn't have much to do with the other at all.
Are you now a Christian rocker or just a rocker who happens to be a Christian?
I can't really decide that; those categories are completely subjective, aren't they? I mean, if you come to my show, you're going to hear me preaching the Gospel. If that makes me a Christian rocker, then I am prepared to face the consequences.