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Interview with Second Life blues artist Von Johin

Nashville musician brings country blues to the virtual world


Second Life blues artist Von Johin

Second Life blues artist Von Johin

Photo courtesy Von Johin

One blues act in SL is a guy named Charles E Bristol, he's an 87 year old black man from NC, and he's the real deal. I'm a big fan. I'm going to do a show with him, we're meeting half way in Knoxville TN on Sept 20th, where we will play together in SL, and then play a cool little club at a lake resort that night, which won't get streamed into SL, but we're going to put clips on YouTube, and record the show. I hope to get something from it that I can include on the album for Reality Entertainment, which is tentatively called Jug Band Revelator.

How would you describe your music? What are your blues influences?

I would say stylistically, since I borrow heavily from bluegrass and blues, that what I do is still country blues, but not to be confused with the proper use of that genre term to imply finger-style guitar playing. Some of what I play is classic jug band songs, my favorites being from Cannon Jug Band Stompers, or Memphis Jug Band, some of what I do are adaptations of Blind Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and the other "blind guys" and only rarely do I venture much more current than the sixties when I do a piece.

I love the old stuff. Love it. It moves me. The "modern" blues stuff I cover is Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, BB King, Freddie King, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Big Bill Broonzy, and of course, Willie Dixon, who I consider to be the greatest blues songwriter of all time. I'm sure I've left folks out of that list, because I pull from a song list of about 150 songs. Most of them I had lyrics for and keep them on hand during the shows to refer to as needed.

How did you achieve your record deal? What are your plans for an album?

The record deal came to me. I had no intention of getting signed; this started as a lark, to get me playing again, and give me a purpose to be exploring Second Life. I never intended to do more than play my little club. Within a week or so of starting that, word seemed to spread about me and next thing I know I'm booked several nights a week, months in advance, and this turned into an actual viable side gig as a musician.

Whatever I'm doing, it seems to resonate, and I'm grateful for the fans who show up faithfully to my shows and support the work. I am humbled by this interest in my shows and really happy that the label chose me for this opportunity after going and listening to so many artists in SL, and not only blues acts. They wanted to be the first label to sign an avatar-musician, and nobody has presented any evidence so far that they are not the first label to do it. What I hope is that my little deal will open up the opportunities for more musicians using SL as a platform to be heard and result in deals for them as well.

I got word from a close pal in L.A. that news of my signing led to a big label he knows of holding meetings to discuss scouting in SL. I hope it does, and I hope they find a huge act in here. The platform is fantastic. It's like doing a live show over radio, but you get to see the listeners and hear and read their feedback instantly, which you can't do on the radio the same way. My opinion is that SL is in its early infancy, and the concept of virtual worlds like this is going to really explode as the tech catches up to it, the same way that the Internet did as bandwidth and the tech caught up with delivery of video and audio to consumers in a viable business model.

What are your activities in the "real world"? Do you perform locally, tour the region?

I don't perform much at all in the real world anymore. I don't have time, I'm over the buzz from doing it, and get too much enjoyment out of SL to go do much in RL. I am planning to play Merl Saunder's birthday party on February 14 next year at the Fillmore in SF on the opening slot, because his son asked me to do so, but other than that, it's all SL.

Merl is a good friend and was a mentor to me when I lived out in SF for a decade. He frequently had me open for him and sit in on big shows, like the Haight Street Fair, which I played with him for several years before his stroke, and even two years after it. I have a day gig as my "real life avatar," but do my best to keep the two worlds separate. Von Johin exists only in the virtual world, not in the real world. The record deal is for the avatar, not the guy behind it pulling the strings.

Is music your full-time job?

I work with music full time and have done that almost exclusively since I was a late teen, with various bouts of real world gigs here and there to make the rent. Even when I wasn't making money solely from playing, my real world work was always centered around the music industry in one way or another.

How has Second Life helped your musical career? What are your future plans for both worlds (real and virtual)?

My musical career as Von Johin is only a year old. My real life musical career is over for the most part, but my Second Life musical career is all new, fresh and exciting as the days when I was 21, playing frat houses around the country. As for the future, I'll stick to what I did that got me to this point, which is continuing doing this as long as its fun and people like to hear my music.

I can't do anything bigger in SL than I'm already doing in terms of number of concerts. The label has an option on another album, so odds are good I'll record two of them for release, and then just keep my head down and keep playing my shows. That's what I love to do, and that's what people come to see and hear. It's a fascinating experience and I encourage anyone interested in getting another shot at performing without all the hassles of doing it in the real world to come and give it a try. You really do never know what can come of it.

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