HOW DO WE INCREASE THE FAN BASE?
Hey Johnny Dowd fans!
Yes, you! Particularly you American fans. There are some things I want to say about the amazingly creative musician, Johnny Dowd. I want to hear from you as well. But first, I get to sound off. As Johnny says in one of his songs: “so shut up and pay me some attention.”
I don’t have to tell you how great Johnny’s music is. He is one of those artists that truly comes along once in a blue moon. Very few musicians can incorporate a wide range of music and moods and give them his own unique stamp like he does. You know that. I know that. So why doesn’t he have a bigger following?
Fellow fans and I have often speculated about why more people haven’t gotten with the Dowd program. Is it his voice? Maybe. But Dolly Parton and (especially) Iris DeMent make Johnny sound like a New Yorker by comparison. So that theory doesn’t hold a lot of water. Is it the dark subject matter of a lot of his songs? Well, that certainly is overemphasized by a lot of music writers who don’t get the complete picture. Johnny’s music isn’t burning with optimism’s flames. But the writers often overlook the humor and yes, the humanity (hope that doesn’t make Johnny gag!) in his music. Even though he doesn’t share the world view of Casper The Friendly Ghost, Johnny’s music isn’t depressing. Like good blues musicians, Johnny cures depression by singing about the rough patches we all hit, making them a shared experience and letting the listener know he or she isn’t the only one going through hard situatons. Besides, Nick Cave’s music isn’t a barrel of laughs and he seem to be doing just fine. Could Johnny’s age be working against him gaining new fans? That’s possible in America’s youth-obsessed culture. But Johnny Cash didn’t seem to have any trouble attacting younger listeners during his late career revival. So that’s not the entire answer either.
Well, talk is cheap and speculation is even cheaper. Whatever the reason(s), the fact remains that Johnny Dowd doesn’t have the larger audience he deserves. Which leads to the ultimate question: what can we do about it?
Some of you might say the lack of a bigger following is Johnny’s problem to deal with, that no one put a gun to his head and forced him to pursue a second career in music. Fair point. But if you’re a fan of JD, then you are probably passionate about music, like I am–listening to recorded music and going to concerts aren’t minor diversions or occasional treats, they are an integral part of your life, especially the music of rare talents like Mr. Dowd. Don’t you think Johnny deserves more success? Wouldn’t you like to see him tour regularly in his own country, instead of just Europe? These are rhetorical questions for you folks. Not everyone has to love Johnny’s music. But there’s certainly enough appeal in his music to attract a larger audience.
I’m not suggesting anyone leave their jobs and become cult followers of Dowd. But if we all chip in some of our spare time, then maybe we can help Johnny.
Drawing by John Behm
Some of the traditional ways of spreading the word are still valid, even in the Age Of The Internet. Things like telling friends about Johnny, and buying them his CDs as gifts if you exchange presents with them can help. If you’re lucky enough to have a good community/noncommercial or college radio station near you, request his tunes on shows that play good alternative music. If you have the time and inclination, try to get your own show on a community radio station; they frequently look for new programmers. If you know a club owner or promoter, suggest they book Johnny. If you know (or are) a touring musician with a sizable following, see about getting Johnny on tour as an opening act, like Pere Ubu recently did.
I’m pretty much a Neanderthal when it comes to the internet, so I’ll start the discussion and ask others to share their suggestions. If you have a music blog or want to start one, that’s a great way to promote Johnny’s music. It doesn’t have to be exclusively devoted to JD like this fine blog I’m writing this for. Posting about Johnny on music discussion boards is another good idea–I’ve done this a lot myself. Even what seem like little things like posting images of Johnny on your avatar (my avatar on thefall.org is the cover of That’s Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse) or quoting Johnny’s lyrics on signature lines are helpful.
Other ways of using the internet for JD are beyond my personal ability but maybe not yours. The a capella group Straight No Chaser gained a lot of attention–and subsequently a career–from a single YouTube video that went viral. If you are skilled in that area, put together a clever, attention getting video (with Johnny’s consent) for posting on YouTube, Vimeo, at al. Using bots to promote Johnny, instead of stealing an election, is something to consider as well.
That’s my spiel. Please reply with your ideas for helping Johnny out. Let’s have a conversation. But let’s follow it up with action. Johnny is sixty-nine years old and like all of us, isn’t immortal. While I hope he is able and willing to tour into his eighties like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, time isn’t on his side. Let’s figure out things we can do to increase Dowd awareness and do them. Johnny Dowd’s time is NOW!