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 Johnny Fox goes with the flow as a full-time blues soloist
 by Thomas Crone - Photo by Allyson Mace  

Johnny FoxAs Johnny Fox walks in for his Sunday night gig at the Broadway Oyster Bar, his brother Jimmy is already enjoying a cocktail and waiting for a bowl of jambalaya to arrive. It’s about 45 minutes until the two – billed simply as the Fox Blues Duo – are scheduled to hit the stage, but Johnny Fox is still sorting out his arrival.

“What time is it?” he asked, looking at his watch. “It’s already 8:10? Wow.”

Luckily, Fox knows that no matter how close he might cut a gig, there’s still a chance to make things right before the first note is strummed. When he’s not using his PA system, Fox said that he can set up, plug in and play within five minutes. After all, this performer knows his equipment – including his vehicle.

“During the week, I work on booking,” he said. “I do the Web site myself; we’ve got a project studio at home. And I work on keeping my van running. I’ve become a pretty good mechanic.”

After five years of playing as a solo artist specializing in classic rock covers, Fox made the switch to the blues two years ago. Since then, he’s played literally hundreds of gigs each year, sometimes accompanied by his brother on lead guitar, but he plays solo more often than not. As you might expect, the man can play some guitar and has a seasoned, versatile voice, but he’s not content to go the purely traditional route.

Adding to his arsenal of possibilities from song to song, he’s played harmonica for a while, but that’s something of a blues standaRoad Fox’s most recent addition to the stage, however, is more entertaining, which he credits to his wife and business partner, Melissa. Taking a classic suitcase, Fox attaches a bass-drum beater and drops a Shure SM57 microphone into the carrying case. As quickly as that, he’s got a bass drum and another texture to his material.

Fox said that playing rock over the years was hard on his voice and equally hard on his nerves. “You become a jukebox,” he said. “They always ask you to play the song you don’t know.”

The blues meanwhile?

“I’ve played five gigs in four days,” he said. “And my voice still has a lot to give. I never have to worry about my voice playing the blues.”

A professional musician since the age of 13, Fox has moved through a variety of bands and projects with his brothers, friends and a few longstanding partners. He achieved some success with the rock act Villanova Junction in the mid-’90s, which pulled together a veteran unit of area players including Mark Quinn, who’s since gone on to no small amount of popularity with Joe Dirt & the Dirty Boys. But when Villanova Junction folded, the idea of playing solo, rather than putting together a new act, seemed a best-case scenario for Fox.

And the move to the blues has made his gig possibilities even greater. It’s not uncommon for him to play four or five sets every weekend, including happy-hour slots.

“That’s an average weekend,” he said.

Rooms that book him on a regular basis span the region, with some of his favorites dotting Downtown and Soulard – the Broadway Oyster Bar, Beale on Broadway and Spooty’s, among many others. Keeping a 100-mile radius, he may be found at a barroom in Warrenton or rural Illinois one night and then back at a regular haunt the next. He’s played festivals, dive bars, biker clubhouses and every other manner of venue in the past couple years, and he keeps a sharp eye out for new opportunities.

“It goes both ways,” he said, discussing how he works with clubs. “But I definitely keep an eye on the ads.”

His ideal playing scenario is one that should appeal to any reader of Sauce: barrooms with a restaurant. He feels that “the blues and food go well together.”

On a Sunday evening, with the heated tent at the Broadway Oyster Bar sporting only a dozen patrons, Fox is smiling as this concept is put to the test. The crowd is quiet, and you can easily hear the ringing of the kitchen’s pick-up bell, the clatter of silverware being put away and the unmistakable sound of a metal serving tray bouncing off the brick flooring. Meanwhile, trains roll past the club, giving another bit of texture to the sonics of the seasonally enclosed room.

“I know this room like the back of my hand,” Fox said, dismissing the random sounds. “I feel lucky to be able to do this for a living.”

Johnny Fox’s radio show on KDHX 88.1 FM, “River City Acoustic,” airs the first Friday of each month at 7 p.m. A full calendar of his upcoming gigs can be found at www.johnnyfox.biz.

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