IT’S JOHNNY X – BUT NOT AS IN EX-CON
A generation ago, the singer from The Wild went to prison just as the former Sunset Strip headliners were set to break into the mainstream, and now Johnny X is making a long-overdue comeback
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Editor at Large
HOLLYWOOD — One thing about Johnny X, the singer for The Wild: Though the former buzz band once on the brink of stardom never met expectations, Mr. X has yet to give up. He has suffered a hefty dose of misfortune through the years, not least a 14-month prison sentence on cocaine charges beginning in 1991, coupled with former bandmate Dizzy Reed joining Guns N’ Roses.
The long-haired Native American with a penchant for great songs and amazing vocals is working his way back into the spotlight, including a comeback concert this coming Saturday, Nov. 22 at the Viper Room in Hollywood with Paradise and Rough Justice.
Johnny X has never been afforded the opportunity to explain what really happened to him and how he feels about Reed not just abandoning him but succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest dreams just when The Wild singer was at his absolute lowest point.
In this Metal Sludge exclusive, Johnny X tells all, and it’s a riveting and tragic story of what could have been. But if the singer succeeds in having the final word, the story is not over yet.
The Wild’s Johnny X w/ Adam Gifford @ Cathouse Hollywood (photo by Rik Fox)
METAL SLUDGE: The Wild makes its grand return on Saturday, Nov. 22 at the Viper Room in Hollywood. Are you pumped?
JOHNNY X: Yeah. It’s been about 25 years, I don’t even know how long. I’ll be doing some songs from The Wild and some from Johnny & the Jaguars, which was my first Hollywood band. We were headlining with Johnny & the Jaguars in 1985 or ’86 with the same members as the original Wild. It was more rockabilly and glam – you would have loved it, Gerry.
SLUDGE: And of course your renowned keyboardist Dizzy Reed got plucked from obscurity by Guns N’ Roses.
He did. Axl had come to see us at Xposeur-54, and of course we had known Guns N’ Roses since Johnny & the Jaguars in Hollywood. They moved right next to us at the old Gardner Street studios off Sunset Boulevard. That’s where they put all their music together, a magical place. We lived there and recorded there right next to them for about six months in 1985 before they got signed.
SLUDGE: That’s legendary.
Fuck ya. That period, it was really strange how that studio transformed them into one of the greatest rock and roll bands of our time, of all-time.
SLUDGE: So you look back now, were you hurt that Dizzy left and got all this success and kind of left you guys in the dust? It’s years later now, and you have perspective.
I think it was the ultimate move for Dizzy, but actually, we had just got signed, too, right before that, to a subsidiary of Atlantic, and at first, Dizzy was going to play in both bands, so like I said, at first it wasn’t like he was leaving us for them. They were recording “Use Your Illusion” at the time, and we were a unique kind of funk band. I think we were basically ahead of our time, so it was a good move for Dizzy, playing piano for GNR. From The Wild, my cousin J.J. went to Johnny Crash and our drummer, Sid Riggs, went on to play with Rob Halford in this industrial band Rob was doing.
SLUDGE: But Dizzy is the one who became so incredibly successful. Did you drift apart?
At first, it was actually pretty cool because he was getting paid for Guns N’ Roses, so we all had a nice apartment and all that kind of stuff. There was no animosity whatsoever, none. The last I heard from Dizzy, he moved to Denver or something.
SLUDGE: But that whole thing pretty much ended The Wild, right?
It didn’t end The Wild just because of that. We started having internal problems with the band, but yeah, I guess that was part of it. I think we had been together for so long, since like 1982, and Seth actually had done some stuff with Guns N’ Roses, too. Dizzy, I haven’t spoken to him in a few years. I was hoping he could show up on Saturday. I sent some messages, but I have no idea if he’s on tour with Hookers & Blow, or what he’s doing. Last I heard, he was hangin’ out in Georgia.
Johnny X on stage at Gazzarri’s with Bill Gazzarri & Kenny from Taz
Johnny (right) with actor Michael Francis Miller (Lost Boys) and The Wild drummer Sid Riggs
Dizzy Reed, Bill Gazzarri, Johnny X & KK of Taz @ Gazzarri’s back in the day
SLUDGE: Let’s be honest: Don’t you wish it was you?
Well, I don’t think I could fill Axl’s spot, you know what I mean? It would be great to be a millionaire, don’t get me wrong, and to have that kind of status, but I’m just looking forward to playing again and doing what I do. I’m happy for Dizzy and a lot of my other friends from that time who are all very successful. I was really good friends with C.C. Deville before Poison. He used to come to the studio. It’s just the way it is.
SLUDGE: OK, time to get personal. Do you mind a tough question or two?
Sure, no problem.
SLUDGE: You went to jail for a while, true?
SLUDGE: Now, I know everyone says this, but I remember at the time, this was like in 1991, you got kind of a raw deal because you were protecting someone else and was kind of in the wrong place at the wrong time, does that sound right?
Well, as you know, our rock and roll scene in Hollywood back then, there was an enormous amount of cocaine. Some heroin, but mainly coke, and speed came later. I was in a bad place at a bad time, and I didn’t want to rat out anyone – and I didn’t want my 3-year-old daughter to get shot in the back of the head. So I went away for a while, for 14 months, and that’s the real story that has quite a bit to do with the ending of The Wild. Axl and Slash were actually going to bail me out, but we all decided that that wasn’t a good idea.
It ruined everything. Ruined my career. We were recording our album when it happened, mixing our album. It was the worst timing in the world. At first they wanted to give me 10 years federal prison for conspiracy. I ended up doing 14 months in state prison.
SLUDGE: That must have been horrible.
It was rough, let me tell you. I actually got arrested like two or three days before the L.A. riots, so I was in L.A. County Jail at the worst time you could possibly be there. It was a brutal situation, especially being a Native American, because there aren’t many Native Americans in county jail, so I was one and alone.
SLUDGE: I would have thought they might put you in with the Hispanics.
No. Actually, I didn’t mind being alone considering the situation. They were lighting people on fire and fighting each other by putting soap in their socks.
SLUDGE: Are you pretty tough?
That’s what they say, Gerry. Let’s put it this way: I came back with all my long hair. I was a Hollywood rocker, about 155 pounds, and they say I’m fairly good-looking, right? So you got the idea, it wasn’t easy. Let’s just say it was an enlightening experience. Not to say I’m glad I went through it, but I have a different overview of life since then, For me to go to jail at that time, it was the worst time in the world for me and my family and my young daughter, who is 26 now.
SLUDGE: Well, you’re on the comeback trail now.
Yeah, I’ve been writing songs this whole time, and I’ve got a new band now and a new manager, and I plan to go on tour and maybe do some cruise-line shows. And we’re playing Saturday of course at the Viper Room. Paradise goes on at 9:30, we go on at 10:30, and Rough Justice goes on at 11:30.
SLUDGE: The scene is almost completely dead now. Is that a bummer?
Oh yes. That’s probably the most disturbing thing about moving back to Hollywood, and that’s one of the reasons we’re doing this compilation album project, Rock and Roll Rebels, a compilation of ‘80s bands from the Strip. It’s coming out on March 1.
SLUDGE: Ah yes, you wanted some help from me on that and I demanded producer credit.
Well, you’re thanked on it.
SLUDGE: Who are some of the best bands on it?
Rattlesnake Shake, Taz, Paradise, Cyclone Sound, Sam Mann & the Apes and some underground bands, some crossover bands. It’s got Hollywood Rose, too.
SLUDGE: With Axl?
No with Jimmy Swan. Also Imagine World Peace, Brunette. We keep going back and forth with Brunette, trying to figure out which song to use.
Johnny X @ The Wild @ Facebook
And info for Viper Room is HERE
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at email@example.com