Big Sugar leader Gordie Johnson can stand the heat, hence why is in the kitchen of his Texan home.
“You caught me in the middle of baking a peach-mango masala crumble,” Johnson says.
With apologies to peach mango masala crumble fans everywhere, Johnson has bigger fish to fry with Big Sugar this coming weekend when the acclaimed blues-rock-reggae band has the honour of performing with Australian rock giants AC/DC.
Despite Big Sugar having rightfully earned a reputation as being one of Canada’s best live acts, Johnson admits his first thought upon hearing his band would be performing alongside AC/DC helped bring out his inner 13-year-old.
“When we got the call from our agent to open for AC/DC, my first thought was ‘Cool! I get to see AC/DC,” he laughs. “Then as the thought trickled into my stream of consciousness, it dawned on me that not only was I going to see AC/DC, I got to be on the same stage. It’s really something special.”
Asked what he considers to be AC/DC’s best quality, Johnson not only cites their music but also touts the impressive longevity of a band now entering their fourth decade of existence, as being the blueprint which rock bands should aspire to be.
“As far as I am concerned, AC/DC is the gold standard, man. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of my musical heroes play, and virtually every one of them has had their share of good and bad nights. That is, with the exception of AC/DC. I have never seen a live show from them that hasn’t failed to annihilate everyone in attendance. As a music fan, it’s pretty thrilling to see a band that goes deep every night and has done so for decades now. How they have managed to keep things that consistent is indeed one of the great mysteries of life.”
Although his career hasn’t reached AC/DC-like proportions – an echelon of popularity afforded to just a handful of acts, in Johnson’s defense – Johnson has carved out a more than respectable career in the more than quarter century since Big Sugar formed in Toronto.
After having garnered wide-spread praise for their self-titled debut as well as 1993’s Five Hundred Pounds EP, the group broke through to the mainstream with 1996’s Hemi-Vision, led by hit singles “If I Had My Way” and “Diggin’ A Hole.” The album would go on to sell more than 100,000 copies in Canada. Subsequent releases Heated (1998) and 2001’s Brothers & Sisters, Are You Ready? continued the group’s winning streak in fine fashion.
Following a nearly seven-year hiatus that began in 2003, Big Sugar returned in 2010 and picked up where they left off. In the last five years, the group has maintained a rather hectic pace, releasing a live CD/DVD in addition to three full-length records, including their brand new album Calling All The Youth.
Johnson insists that it is no coincidence that the group has kept busy since getting back together five years ago.
“When we initially got back together, it was the first time that we started thinking about the reasons to be Big Sugar. It certainly wasn’t just to play the hits because we love those songs and knew that if we reached a point where we stopped loving them, we had to take them out of the set for awhile. We respect our fans too much to be phoning in our show every night,” he says.
“I see some bands from the 90’s doing shows and reunion tours but don’t see them releasing new material. We have always been a band that has been driven to want to create. None of us want to put Big Sugar through the indignity of being a ‘hits only’ band. We have never been a group that has made music to be popular; success for Big Sugar has always been more of an incidental thing. I spoke with someone recently and they said that if we were still doing what we were playing back when we released Five Hundred Pounds in 1993, we would be one of the biggest bands in the world because we were playing this style of music before The Black Keys became popular. As far as I am concerned though, that is not a recipe for forward motion. We play the style of music we do because we enjoy it.”
Of course, Big Sugar is just one of many musical puzzle pieces that Johnson has on the go these days. While Big Sugar may be his best-known group, Johnson also fronts power-trio Grady, plays bass for Canadian Prairie rockers Wide Mouth Mason and also performs with dub duo Sit Down Servant. Johnson also recently played bass for former Black Crowes member Rich Robinson.
Playing music may be his primary outlet, but Johnson has also kept busy with a prolific music production career, having worked with Joel Plaskett, The Trews and many others.
While the production side of Johnson’s career has been forced to take a backseat in light of Big Sugar being kept so busy, Johnson excitedly shares that one of his most recent projects was being tasked to mix previously unreleased material from acclaimed Southern-blues rock band Gov’t Mule.
“Having the chance to be a part of resurrecting this music is simply an honour,” Johnson says. “I’m the lucky guy that gets to do all this work that makes other producers jealous.”
What: Big Sugar with AC/DC and Vintage Trouble
When: Saturday Sept. 5, 2 p.m.
Where: Magnetic Hill Concert Site, Moncton