Gordie Johnson finds where the rock is on John Ford’s Bullets for Dreamers

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 1, 2003

By Steve Newton

One could be excused for presuming that the “Armagideon Time” on the new John Ford CD is the same song the Clash released in ’79 as the B side to “London Calling”. After all, the members of John Ford take a fairly Clash-like approach on Bullets for Dreamers, as evidenced by the disc’s jarring, punk-tinged riff-rock and its retro cover art, which depicts the leather-jacketed lads wearing blindfolds, lined up as if ready for the firing squad. When John Ford singer-guitarist Rich Hope rings in from his East Vancouver home, he explains how such confusion could arise. Turns out his band had its own song called “Armagideon Time”, which it was about to record at Toronto’s Phase One studios with producer Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar fame. Then, to give some authenticity to the title, the group got T.O.–based Willi Williams—composer of the original, Clash-covered reggae classic—to help out with the new tune’s lyrics, and sing on it, too.

“He came down to the studio and listened to it three or four times to make sure that he was down with the sentiment,” says Hope. “You know, he’s got four whiteys doing [a song] that’s based on this kinda Rastafarian outlook on the world, but he listened to it and he’s like, ‘Yeah, there’s some truth in this.’ So we smoked a big spliff and he wrote some lyrics out and we laid it down.”

Although his group isn’t expecting to shake the music world out of its complacency the way Joe Strummer and company did in punk’s heyday, Hope maintains that there are some serious messages to be heard on the new album. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a political outlook,” he states, “but it’s definitely politically minded. I mean, Bullets for Dreamers really references the fact that dreamers are always the ones that lead people into a revolution, but they’re also the ones that take the bullets first when the shit comes down.”

There’s some mindless fun to be had on Bullets too, as on the sassy “Ass, Gass, Grass”, a tongue-in-cheek throwback to the macho “Nobody rides for free” motto. “It’s good that you got that,” says Hope, “ ’cause some people have reviewed it and gone: ‘Are they serious?’ No, we’re not. That’s an old phrase from the ’70s that’s really about that sort of one-percenters [biker] lifestyle. We just wrote a song about it, that’s all.”

The lyrical themes on John Ford’s latest fluctuate between politics and partying, but the music itself is consistently raucous and raw, thanks to the bare-bones approach of producer Johnson. “He heard our original record and really liked it,” says Hope, referring to the band’s self-titled 2000 debut. “He wanted to produce us, and at first we were like, ‘Oh, Gordie Johnson’s gonna do it?’ But then we started workin’ with him and listening to his stuff, and now we’d all go on record as saying, ‘Man, we were asses to even have any doubts about it.’ I mean, the guy’s a really good musician and a really good producer. He knows where the rock is.”

Since the departure of original John Ford coguitarist Paul Kehayas last year, the group has mainly existed as a trio, comprising Hope, bassist Chris Read, and drummer Adrian Mack. But when it came time to record Bullets for Dreamers, it recruited former Black Halos axeman Rich Jones to fill the void. “We wanted to do the record as a four-piece,” explains Hope, “and putting Johnson on the record [as a guitarist] wasn’t really an option, because there’s too much baggage that goes along with having a guy of his stature. I mean, it was enough baggage having Rich Jones on it! But we were going to record in Toronto and Rich was there, so we just called him up and said, ‘Hey, do you want to make this record with us?’ And it was cool to have him, because he had an ability to sort of do his job but also contribute some ideas.”

After that studio stint, Jones returned to the commitments of his current group, Los Angeles–based Amen, which Hope contends is gaining quite a following in the U.K. Since then John Ford has enlisted guitarist Rod “Lightning Rod” Prokopie for touring, and he’ll be with the band when it plays the Pic Pub on Saturday (May 3). At that gig, don’t be surprised to see Hope sporting the True Sounds of Liberty T-shirt that graces Bullets’ front and back covers.

“I not as big a fan of TSOL as Chris [Read] is,” notes Hope, “ ’cause I kinda missed it when I was a kid. But I went and saw them in Seattle last year, and I really dug ’em, so I picked up this shirt. And that’s the thing about this band, you know: we listen to all kinds of music. You’re not even allowed to be in this band if you don’t listen to all kinds of music. You know, we’re of the opinion that if you’re a rock band and all you do it listen to rock, then you’re gonna make pretty stale rock music. So in the van we’ll have George Jones followed by TSOL. That’s the way it goes.”

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