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John January and Linda Berry Have Chemistry

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Chemistry by its very definition is the spontaneous reaction of two people to each other, especially that sense of mutual attraction and understanding. This month John January and Linda Berry release their new project, Chemistry 101 and together they explore a range and depth of musical styles on both organic and physical levels. As a joint labor of love, January says Chemistry 101 is pretty straight-forward. “We recorded an old-school idea of an album. It’s music from a couple of kids who grew up in the 70s, and who adored their records. We’ve chosen and re-fashioned some juicy stuff, like Joe Liggins, Memphis Minnie, Flash Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson II and even an old Boz Scaggs tune.”

CD cover of Chemistry 101, John January's and Linda Berry's latest release
The new release from John January and Linda Berry

As fate would have it, Linda and John got to know each other exactly where you’d expect. “We met on stage.” John says. “At Larry’s Beach Club in Oceanside about 4 years ago when I was asked by Pearl West to guest with Linda’s band, Smoking Jr. The chemistry between us was immediate and palpable… but the timing was not right.”

Both January and Berry were experiencing “the final stages of ending marriages.” And as if that wasn’t enough, John adds, “My time with my band, little monsters and the four years as Michele Lundeen’s guitarist was also winding down. A year later, Linda and I were ready to begin pursuing ‘everything’ together.”

The collaboration began from the ground up. “Musically,” John says. “We began by just sitting and playing, becoming excited about the songs and our chemistry. We quickly built up what is now a repertoire of over 100 songs, mostly in the Blues realm, and these songs speak to our relationship and also our individual stories.”

Sounds extremely personal, tell us about the composition and makeup of the album? “There are 12 songs.” John says. “Mostly lesser-known, blues-based covers that Linda and I have chosen. Songs that we developed through live performances and that tell a little of our story in one fashion or another.”

Can you give us an example? “For instance, ‘If I Didn’t Know Better’ was a kind of homework assignment from Linda to me, after our first date. Suffice to say, on the second date we were singing the song in harmony together, and when we perform that song on stage now it still evokes the daring and tantalizing moment of a first encounter.”

Let’s talk a little about putting the album together? “Chemistry 101 was primarily recorded at Thunderbird Studios in Oceanside.” John says. “…and also at the Scott Exum Studio’s in Escondido. 95% of what you hear on this recording… are first takes, including the vocals and guitar solos. I mixed the album back in my home studio, the Atom Shop. Saxophonist Chuck Arcilla contributes all over the album, soloing and sometimes overdubbing himself as a horn section. Sadly, during the course of album’s evolution, we lost two of our dear friends who performed on the album, the beloved bassist Dave Talbott who deserves a co-producers credit for the guidance and great ideas he brought to the songs, and drummer Cliff Souligny, who died from a sudden brain tumor earlier this year.”

I can’t imagine how you continue to work on a project after losing two of its primary contributors? “At times it was difficult for me to finish the mixing.” John says the hardest part was “just listening to my friends on the tracks, performing, singing, and talking between takes. Within three months we lost Dave, Cliff and another member of our organization, back-up bassist, Steve Welles. The losses were a three-way sucker punch for Linda and me, and they flattened us just as we felt we were getting into our stride. So, it was important to pick ourselves up, and finish this project, knowing that all three of those talented gentlemen were firm proponents of the music and chemistry that Linda and I had developed. To finish off the album, we got some great help from even more musicians, like Sonny Derrin on harmonica, Irv Goldstein on organ and Pete Bogle on drums.”

John January and Linda Berry performing
John January and Linda Berry perform with friends at the ‘Doors of Change’ benefit for homeless youth in San Diego. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

After all the challenges surrounding this project, it must feel good to have it finished? “We’re very excited. This is a blues album and it is a rollicking, groovy, funky, sexy project… we even goof around a little. But, make no mistake.” John says. “We made sure that we are kicking some ass on there.”

Check out Chemistry 101, the latest blues from John January and Linda Berry. Available this month…. or if you’re so inclined you can get your copy at the CD Release Party, June 11, 2017 at Tango Del Rey 3567 Del Ray St. San Diego, CA 92109.

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