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White lie pays off for versatile Gordie Johnson

What: Sit Down, Servant!! and Lee Harvey Osmond Where: Alix Goolden Performance Hall When: Tonight, 7:30 (doors 7 p.m.

What: Sit Down, Servant!! and Lee Harvey Osmond

Where: Alix Goolden Performance Hall

When: Tonight, 7:30 (doors 7 p.m.)

Tickets: $32 advance, $35 door (Victoria Jazz Society office, 250-388-4423, Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records, McPherson box office 250-386-6121

 

 

When Gordie Johnson was invited to open for George Thorogood and the Destroyers on a 2012 cross-Canada tour, he was keen.

It was a great opportunity. The problem was, the guitarist — best known as Big Sugar’s frontman — was in rough shape.

He’d just undergone surgery for a crippling case of carpal tunnel on his left wrist. Rocking out on the guitar was not an option.

So Johnson improvised. He pretended he’d formed a new duo featuring him on lap-steel guitar (the lap-steel requires an entirely different technique that the post-surgery Johnson could manage).

“I lied to my agent is what I did,” Johnson said this week from a Calgary tour stop.

“I told him I had a band that was ready to go.”

Asked for the band’s name, Johnson scanned the titles on his iTunes file.

He told the agent the duo was called Sit Down, Servant!! after the traditional gospel tune, Sit Down Servant, sung by the Staple Singers and others.

The agent then said he needed to hear several sample tunes immediately.

“I ran to the studio as fast as I could, speeding all the way there. Got there, sat down and did three songs. Mixed them and sent them over. And got the gig,” Johnson said with a chuckle.

Sit Down Down, Servant!! performs in Victoria tonight with Lee Harvey Osmond, a roots band led by Tom Wilson. Johnson plays a 1958 Magnatone triple-neck lap steel and bass pedals, with Big Sugar’s Stephane (Bodean) Beaudin on drums.

The duo is a successful side project for Johnson, now fully recovered from his surgery. He still performs with reggae-rockers Big Sugar, his cowboy-metal band Grady, and funk-rockers Wide Mouth Mason (with whom he plays bass).

Sit Down, Servant!! recently completely a string of Canadian dates opening for guitar whiz Joe Satriani.

The duo combines elements of gospel, blues and rhythm-heavy dub.

The sound is, in Johnson’s words, “deep, heavy and trancey.”

When Sit Down, Servant!! played at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, they found hip-hop artists loved rapping with them on stage. One of them, Bushwick Bill of the Ghetto Boys, even invited Sit Down Servant!! to play on his album.

“This is a band that’s capable of unexpected things,” Johnson said.

A musician who dabbles in too many genres can be a marketer’s nightmare. Yet Johnson says his team is supportive of his varied musical interests.

His philosophy has always been to pursue styles that interest him rather than letting the commercial considerations dictate his path.

He added: “I think if you make good music, success will find you.”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com