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Classic rock, breakfast and atrophy: An interview with B.A. Johnston

By Jason Herring, April 23 2019 —

Canadian comedy music legend B.A. Johnston is once again venturing out of the basement of his mother’s Hamilton, Ontario house and into his battered tour van for a cross-Canada tour that will take him to The Ship & Anchor in Calgary for a free show on April 24.

Johnston is touring in support of his 12th album, The Skid is Hot Tonight. The album is named in a loving tribute to Loverboy’s classic arena-rock tune “The Kid is Hot Tonight” and features songs like “Our Love Is Like the Cleveland Browns,” “Flintstones Vitamins and Jamesons” and “We’re All Going to Jail (Except Pete, He’s Gonna Die).”

The album is an odyssey, even by Johnston’s standards. The 21 songs over 40 minutes hit on everything, from why Johnston doesn’t use self-serve machines at fast-food restaurants to how weed was definitely better in the ‘90s. Johnston says he hopes his fans listen to the record in a format that allows them to take a breather partway through.

“It’s quite long,” he says. “I made the record for vinyl, because I was thinking, I get resentful having to get off the couch and change the record over. But when I listened to it on CD, I was like, ‘This never ends!’ So I guess it depends on the format. If you listen to it on cassette or vinyl, you’re okay, but if you listen to it on CD or streaming, you’re in for a long night. You have to get up or your muscles will atrophy.”

Johnston is a lover of cheap classic rock of all kinds, as evident from the Loverboy album title and the lead single, which recounts taking mushrooms and going to a Van Halen show. But he took that love a step further earlier in the year, when he ran a contest to bring a fan to sit in the nosebleeds and see KISS live in Toronto with him. The contest’s eventual winner? Johnston’s cousin.

“He entered the contest and my Mom said I should take him because I never get to hang out with him,” Johnston says. “They blew up a lot of stuff. There was a lot of explosions.”

Johnston seemed excited for the stop in Calgary, calling it his “second favourite city in the country.” Among the city’s highlights for him is the Blackfoot Truckstop Diner, which Johnston considers to serve the finest breakfast in all of Canada.

When told about Alberta Premier-elect Jason Kenney’s fondness for the restaurant, Johnston argued that good food transcends politics.

“Well, he knows a good meal! I mean, Doug Ford likes a lot of good restaurants. Maybe it’s cause I’m a fat old white person, I go to the same restaurants as other fat old white people, cause I’ve noticed Doug Ford eats at this sandwich place I wanted to go to and their website was just all pictures of him eating there, which really depressed me,” he says. “So I don’t care if they eat there but I don’t know if I want them to put their photo up. Like, if it’s a picture of Kenny Rogers eating a sandwich, that’s fine with me. Maybe an actual prime minister, I could see putting up maybe, but a premier? Where do we stop?”

Johnston’s favourite city in the country is his hometown of Hamilton, which he explores in-depth in his new web series, Ham Jam. The show follows Johnston on a tour of some Hamilton hot spots, including arcades and sub shops, trying to show off the city’s true character. The series is available on YouTube.

On this tour, Johnston is travelling much further from home than usual, playing a handful of dates in the United Kingdom. He says it’s his third time venturing across the Atlantic to play shows.

“No one came to any of the shows, but third time’s the charm, right?” he says.

Johnston’s hyper-Canadian show needs some adjustments for a British audience. He says that he can camp up some parts of the Canadian thing — “if you make a joke about a moose, they’re very excited about it. They think it’s the funniest thing they’ve heard in their life,” he says — but some setlist staples require a bit of tinkering.

For example, “GST Cheque,” the song about the pseudo payday of getting government cheques in the mail, is cut from the sets entirely, while he replaces the titular grocery store in “I Don’t Want to Go to the No Frills” with a local chain.  

“Slide one word in, slide one word out,” Johnston says.

Johnston plays a free show at The Ship & Anchor on April 24. If you want to see Johnston take off his shirt and writhe around on the bar floor while singing about how many T-bone steaks he can fit in his pants, you know where to go.

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