Monday, April 16, 2018

David Earle Johnson - 1977 - Time Is Free

David Earle Johnson 
Time Is Free

01. Grandma's House 4:48
02. Lofts 5:23
03. Time Is Free 2:55
04. Ramtide 3:37
05. Ten Little Times 3:41
06. Juice Harp 5:05
07. Sea, Sand And Sun 4:00
08. Safes 3:30
09. Skin, Log, And Street Suite 6:43

David Earle Johson: Percussion
Jan Hammer: Keyboards
Andy Topeka: Background mumbo with Jan Hammer and David Earle Johnson

David Earle Johnson was a percussionist, a composer and a music producer. He performed on albums by a number of jazz artists in the seventies before releasing a few of his own albums in the late seventies and early eighties.

He appeared on Billy Cobham's Total Eclipse and Clive Stevens's Voyage to Uranus (1974); Jan Hammer's First Seven Days (1975); Lenny White's Big City and Miroslav Vitouš' Majesty Music (1977); Jaroslav Jakubovic's Checkin' In, Mark Moogy Klingman's Moogy II, the Players Association's Born to Dance, and Josh White Jr.'s self-titled album (1978).

Johnson's solo debut came in 1978 with Time Is Free, recorded for Vanguard Records. His relationship with that label proved short-lived, however, and he began recording albums for other labels in subsequent years before his recording career simmered following his 1983 album, the Midweek Blues.

Jan Hammer produced and performed on most of these releases along with John Abercrombie, Jeremy Steig, Col. Bruce Hampton, Allen Sloan, Dan Wall, Ben 'Pops' Thornton, Billy McPherson and Gary Campbell.

Johnson was against the use of sampling, as Hammer used samples of his rare Nigerian Log Drums on the Miami Vice soundtrack without his permission. This resulted in a lawsuit which Johnson ultimately lost

He was married to artist Evelyne Morisot, with whom he had four children.

David Earle Johnson is perhaps better known for who he's played with than for his solo material. This marks his first solo effort. Really not a true solo as this is more of a Johnson/Jan Hammer duet album, but Johnson gets the lead credit or only credit for most of the songs. It is a percussion driven album though with DEJ providing vocals for three tracks and JH doing the keyboard and drum kit work. Of course they have to mix it up a little - Jan plays Log on one track and David plays Moog Drum on a couple of tracks.

All of you familiar with the first incarnation of Mahavishnu Orchestra know Jan Hammer. Unfortunately, too few are acquainted with Jan's post MO albums. The first one where David and Jan worked together was on Jan's solo album The First Seven Days. I just looked it up on Wikipedia and it seem Mr. Johnson was also on an album called Voyage to Uranus the year before that one. Huh huh huh huh, huh huh, huh huh.

Time is Free was released the same year as the unfortunate Hammer album Black Sheep. Then, after this one came another fairly dreadful Hammer album and then another really good Johnson/Hammer duo album, Hip Address. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson died in 1998, R.I.P. The guy was an excellent percussionist. Not too shabby with lyrics and vocals, either.

First up is Grandma's House. "Let's go to Grandma's house, there we can sing loud, all of the best songs." Well, not at any of my grandmother's houses, but what the heck. This one has Jan doing his trademark guitar imitation synthesizer thing. David Earle does vocals and percussion. The song shifts gears in the middle and start to get a little Mahavishnuesqe. Jan goes back to a keyboard sounding like a keyboard. David Earle does some spacey vocalizations through an Echoplex. Song then wraps up with a repeat of the opening lyrics.

Lofts is nice jazzy fusiony piece with Jan contributing drums in addition to the keyboards as he does on many of the tracks here and he did on his duo album with Jerry Goodman.

Time Is Free. "Boom boom bang bang, look out here it comes again. Can't stop the way it flows, it never knows why it goes." A fun little ditty. David Earle would go on to appear in Col. Bruce Hampton/The Late Bronze Age's Outside Looking Out, which also has Paul McCandless. 

Ramtide starts with a massive sounding percussion avalanche by DE. Jan kicks in with what may be an arpeggiated synth line and also drums. Nice mostly percussion jam.

Ten Little Times is another Hammer imitating guitar bit. Johnson does a thing called a Moog Drum solo that's really cool. It may likely be heard no where else but here. More MO flavored music here.

Juice Harp. A play in words on Jew's Harp. (Probably not a lot of people familiar with that silly little instrument, akaa jaw harp or mouth harp. Supposed to be one of the oldest musical instruments in the world) I'm guessing the song was named after Jan's synthesizer impression of the instrument.

Sea, Sand and Sun. Opens with DEJ on treble kalimba solo. The a nice duo of Jan on piano and DEJ on various percussion.

Safes. Lots of cool synthesizer licks and percussion on this one. A very complex composition.

Skin, Log, Sand Street Suite. Skins must be the furious opening conga solo, the log must be the percussion duo which follows. Sand Street? Well, there's a lot of them in the U.S. Maybe referring to the one in New Orleans? Another fine song demonstrating that a song can be built with just percussion, although Jan does put in a little synthesizer. Jan's musical contribution is Hammer at his best, not like the overly commercial material he was starting to do around this time.



  2. This is an excellent write up and review. My wife is David Earle's cousin, I met him years back before he passed away around the Hip Address period. I run a website for the state of South Carolina and I am gathering any data I can on David so if anyone has any pictures or anything all info is welcome. This is a very informative Blogsite please keep up your good work