Imagine witnessing Robert Johnson's demise and being the last secret-keeper of the "Devil at the Crossroads" tale. That's bound to mess with your mind in a massive way, right? Similarly, the recent death of South Florida musical icon Johnny Salton is a loss so deep and so laden with mystery that the psychic pressure has been almost unbearable.
But anyone who met Salton knows the motherfucker lived. Not for you. Not for your grandmammy. He lived for himself and the beautiful, guitar-driven music he committed to tape. And we are better for it.
Even as the cancerous spot on Salton's lung spread and the radiation failed to kill it, Jill Kahn, his bassist and best friend for almost three decades, watched the local legend continue to surround himself with music. Every day, he fought for those moments when he was able to strum his beloved guitar or when friends suddenly showed up to shoot the shit about the obscure tunes he loved so much.
We could list a mound of biographical data about the man: how he learned guitar from a bluesman janitor in state school, or how he was the "old man" in cahoots with the legendary Reactions, or even how he mightily challenged the venerable Charlie Pickett on a few Eggs recordings. But it's probably far more appropriate to hear a slice of the Salton story as told by his best friends.
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Longtime keyboardist Bill Ritchie remembers the sangfroid that Salton brought to 2001's It's No Fun to Be Paranoid: "This record marked Johnny's [first] return to the studio since 30 Milligrams of Your Love. He was encouraged by the band to really play extended solos and jams. The thought was that since no one had heard any Salton recordings in some time, let's make up for that." And indeed, those licks are righteous.
Meanwhile, Chuck Loose, a late addition to the South Florida underground musical landscape, remembers Salton's street-rebel side: "The first time somebody turned me on to Cowboy Junkie Au-Go-Go, I was both shocked (this was from South Florida?) and amazed! Then a friend told me about when Johnny Thunders came to town and how he made a beeline straight for Salton so they could score Overtown brown. That's when Salton became legendary in my mind."
And Jeff Schwier hangs on to the memory of the man's enormous friendship: "Johnny was my guitar hero from the day I first heard Live at the Button in 1982. I was lucky enough to see the Eggs and Psycho Daisies during their wailing-feedback prime from 1983 to '85. The first time I went to Miami in 2003, Johnny was friendly and generous with his time. We talked for hours about music at gigs and at his home. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of music. Johnny was a totally unique and underappreciated talent that will never be duplicated."
So pick up a disc, fire up the barbecue, light a cigarette, and let the man's nimble fingers guide you to true musical ecstasy. All hail the king! All hail Johnny Salton!