By Anita Stewart, Managing Editor
August 23, 2021
Ghost Hounds was originally formed in Pittsburgh some years ago. Thomas Tull who had put the band together was also working in the film industry and the band became silent for a time. Thomas resurrected the band again in 2019 as a new project. To reform the band he assembled some of the best musicians he knew–then everything happened pretty quickly. 2019 proved to be a watershed year for the band as they dropped their first studio album, “Roses are Black” and went on tour with luminaries such as Bob Seger, ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones.
“Ghost Hounds Live,” was released in April of this year. And the next album, “A Little Calamity” from Maple House Records has a release date of September 3rd. We reviewed the album several weeks ago and we just love it! Rock at Night got to sit down and chat with Johnny Baab, one of the band’s guitarists about the band, the new album, much more music to come and rosy-looking future plans!
RAN: Well, welcome Johnny Baab to Rock at Night!
Johnny Baab: Thanks for having me!
RAN: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about how this all happened because a lot of people don’t know that you experienced something that was pretty life changing back in 2018. But yet it was a precursor for some really amazing things to come. So can you discuss a bit about that? There was probably a time when you were skeptical about ever being able to play guitar again.
Johnny Baab: Yeah, definitely. So just to fill in for those who don’t know–in 2018 I was in a pretty gnarly car accident. I wasn’t in the car, but I got hit by a car and run over. And it was essentially my future as a guitar player that was definitely in question for some months as I was recovering. I just tried to keep a positive mindset throughout it all. Coming out the other end, I got to meet Thomas Tull and then it went from not being able to play guitar to playing guitar on the biggest stages with my heroes. It was definitely a roller coaster ride there for a while.
RAN: Yeah, so physical therapy and all of that brought you back to where you’re at now and I am sure that with touring and staying active, those injuries are minor at this point, am I right?
Johnny Baab: I mean I had some pretty extensive injuries. The one that probably put me in jeopardy the most was my left arm actually got run over by the vehicle. I don’t know if I would say a minor injury now. I was very lucky, I had great physical therapists and I worked really hard. So for the most part in terms of playing guitar and with day to day stuff, it took me a long time to do a push up, for example. In terms of music, I had to re-learn how to play with a metal plate in my arm, there was the process of relearning and retraining my muscle memory.
RAN: I am sure an interesting and enlightening party of your journey. You had been playing a lot in the New York music scene and I tend to look at New York City as more avant-garde. Whereas the further west you go, it’s more like classic rock and roll. Can you describe the music scene in New York City and in Pittsburgh? How they might be similar and what makes them different?
Johnny Baab: Yeah, definitely. I think New York City has a very deep jazz background and Pittsburgh as well, but what happened in New York City is more like a blend of what turned into “neo-soul.” Like D’Angelo, Questlove and Erykah Badu. Many of the artists were recording at Electric Ladyland Studios in the city at the same time and that sound came out of those recording sessions. I think New York City’s music scene is completely different than Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I haven’t got much of a chance to see it because of Covid shutdowns. I was only here for maybe about a year and it was an extremely busy year for me. I spent most of my time working with the band and being on tour.
RAN: How did you meet Thomas Tull and how did the band members get pulled together?
Johnny Baab: Through a good friend of mine. I know I got shown a lot of love by my really good friends and they would occasionally call and check up on me to see how I was doing…there’s like a huge mental component. When I was recovering from my accident, I was in a state of isolation and, you know, a good friend of mine called me to see how I was doing and he asked how my guitar playing was coming back and that he used to be in a band with someone who was relocated to the east coast. So musically it’s always good to have guitar player friends because you just get to nerd out together. There’s like a different language that you speak and start talking about the pickups that were used in the 70s! So he introduced us and Thomas was in New York where I was living at the time. We just met up and kind of hit it off and when we did a little jamming, we discovered that we had a lot of similar parallels and musical tastes. You know, like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan. So we just had a great time sharing that interest and I think it got to a point where we had been jamming for a couple weeks and we were kind of like, man, should we put together a project? And that turned into the rebirth of Ghost Hounds. And then all we had to do was find the rest of the guys for the band. And we just hit the ground running.
RAN: The band is you of course and Thomas Tull on guitars, who put all this together. Bennett Miller plays bass, Blaise Lanzetta who plays the drums and Joe Monroe on the keys. Now there’s a rumor floating around about how you found Tre Nation, the band’s front man and lead singer on an Instagram post. Tell us about that.
Johnny Baab: So I just happened to be like, scrolling through my Instagram stories and a friend of mine was getting married. And I saw this video from another musician friend of mine at the wedding and Tre was singing and I was just like, I gotta find out who this dude is. You know, I think it was only a 13 second video. But within that time it was just like–that dude’s got it! So I reached out to my friend and he ultimately put me in touch with the leader of the band who then gave me Tre’s email and it turned out he lived around the corner from me in Brooklyn. So we met up and it was just really serendipitous.
RAN: So 2019 was just like this huge year for you guys! You cut your first album together, “Roses are Black.” You were opening for Bob Seger which were some of his last shows from what I understand. I got to see you and the band open for him at Pittsburgh Paints. Then you went on to support ZZ Top for some dates in the south and even opened for the Rolling Stones!
Johnny Baab: I was always blown away at the capacity to treat an opening band like very well. Like those guys were incredible! ZZ Top and the Seger camp and the Stones. They were just first class in the way they treated us and it was such an experience because obviously those guys are legends, but then they were also so cool. They were so accommodating and that really made the experience. That took it from surreal to just like, I literally can’t believe this is happening right now! The shows down in Florida were great! I mean, we had a nice little run with them and then Billy (Gibbons) was just incredible with us and the rest of the guys. We were very saddened to hear about Dusty Hill’s passing recently. Looking back on those tours again, it’s like things that you dream about as a kid and then all of a sudden these people are there in real life and they’re awesome and they’re so cool; so it just makes it much more of a great experience.
RAN: Now this next album is coming out on September 3rd, “A little Calamity” and we reviewed that the first week of August. So this album is a little bit longer than the last one–13 tracks. There is a little bit of rock, country, country rock, blues, Roots. You guys did a really incredible cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s “Thunder Road” from the “Born to Run” album. So, tell me a little bit about the recording of the album, who wrote the songs and maybe some information that the listeners/readers might not know.
Johnny Baab: Thomas writes the songs along with Kevin Bowe. What was really unique and fun about recording “A Little Calamity” was when we recorded “Roses are Black,” we were still pretty fresh as a group, we had spent another year of playing and working as a band with each other and hitting the road. So there’s a natural evolution of the sound and or just like the chemistry of playing with each other where you can have that musical conversation. I want to say organically, but it feels a lot more natural. So, when we recorded this album, we cut the instruments live; we were all in the same room and we would just play the song. Wow, pretty much what we did for “Roses are Black.” The synergy between us while playing was just very strong and it made recording the album really fun, because everyone in the band is such a great musician.
RAN: I had a really hard time picking favorites on this one, and I really, really liked “Firefly” and “Mountain Rain” and then you guys did “End of the Line,” which used the backup singers and Tre didn’t sing lead on that. So, how did that happen? Also, speak a little on your favorite music cities…or what town you think is becoming Music City.
Johnny Baab: So that was actually the person is an artist from Nashville named Jessie Key and she had been doing some, some songwriting with both Kevin and Thomas. And if I recall correctly, I think she was in Pittsburgh. I don’t think the full band was in town. I think it was me Thomas, Blaise, Kevin and Jessie and maybe Joe Monroe. And we were just jamming. And that is kind of how the song came together. It was really fun working with her. She’s super talented. And you know, I think that’s sometimes the coolest way a song can come together–when you just put people in a room and see what happens. Yeah, Nashville is Music City for sure. It’s obviously a great hub for musicians and go to hear good music and, obviously, I’m biased with New York City. I think there’s a couple markets that are like pretty major, like Nashville and New York, but there’s also other places that I’ve been that have like budding music scenes like I think Greenville, South Carolina has a fantastic scene, Asheville, North Carolina, it’s really great. Atlanta has a stronger music base as well. Seeing the kind of smaller cities come up as a really strong places for music like like Greenville, South Carolina, for example, but yeah, I definitely think Nashville is is one of the hot spots for sure.
RAN: Are you guys going to be touring in support of this album? And is that getting put together now?
Johnny Baab: Yeah, we’re definitely going to be doing some shows. Obviously with everything going on, it’s confirming. Everything has been a more laborious process, but we’re working on it and hopefully we can make some announcements soon and get things rolling.
NOTE: This interview was abridged from a much longer conversation Johnny had with us on August 23rd, 2021. Be sure to pre-order the upcoming album, “A Little Calamity” right HERE. And connect with the band on their socials linked below.
UPDATE: (September 2, 2021) The band has just announced that they will be opening some shows for the Rolling Stones this Fall. Keep watching Rock at Night for the latest information and tour dates.
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