Sugar and spice and everything rock
By Shannon Muir
Cars, cigars and guitars these are some of the key ingredients in the rock 'n' roll concoction that is Big Sugar.
Big Sugar consists of Gordie Johnson (lead vocals and guitar), Kelly Hoppe (saxaphone, harmonica and steel guitar), Rich Brown (drums) and Gary Lowe (bassist). The mastermind behind the Big Sugar sound, however, is certainly Johnson, the band's front man. Johnson is the only remaining original band member and is the producer of all four albums. Johnson pretty much knows what an album is going to sound like before the band even steps into a studio. He says he "gets a vision in his head," and then "presses record."
Johnson resists labeling Big Sugar's music. "I make the music, so to me it is just rock 'n' roll," he explains. "I try not to think about it too much." For those who haven't heard the band, Big Sugar's sound is a mixture of rock, blues, ska and dub that could be described as a wholly unholy brew of oxygenated aural discord. And boy, do they play it loud to the point of selling earplugs at their shows. Hugo Boss clothing is all that they will wear on stage. Johnson says, "you try to put on a show for people's eyes as well as their ears, [so] the way we look when we walk out there is very important to us." Even the classic guitars that Johnson plays on stage are kept for their looks. Johnson likes wooden guitars, "the style of them, the way they look," he elaborates, "not guitars that look like a hockey stick made of plastic."
Johnson also likes his cars. A proud owner of a 1970 Dodge Charger (which happens to grace the liner notes of the latest album Hemi-vision), for him rock 'n' roll and cars are unavoidably connected. "American rock 'n' roll sounds best because they have the most highways," explains Johnson. "If you want to make big sounding rock 'n' roll you need a big stretch of highway and a lot of gasoline. A lot of times I'll just drive and listen to the car and listen to what's in my head."
Big Sugar has been in the music business since the self-titled 1992 release, but the band really caught on with 500 Pounds the following year. Since the release of that album, Big Sugar has made about 200 live appearances each year and managed to release two more albums, Dear M.F. and Hemi-vision.When asked how Big Sugar manages to keep their live shows fresh, Johnson responds they never play according to a set, but rather the rest of the band just follows his lead. "[We] jam on the songs a lot, play different versions The Beatles one night, Bob Marley the next," he says. The band will even take requests from the audience. In fact, one of their bigger hits, "Dear Mister Fantasy" was requested by a fan and sounded so good they recorded it.
Big Sugar also has a London connection. "Leadbelly," a song on the album Dear M.F. was recorded live at Call the Office.
In the works now for Big Sugar is another album, which will have a stronger reggae influence without ignoring the band's blues roots. Johnson philosophizes about the project, saying, "you take your risks, you take your chances." Released hopefully next May or June, this album is sure to be yet another powerful exploration of the parameters of rock 'n' roll.