Evan Johns was a roots rock guitar hero, playing rough and tumble rock & roll that drew on rockabilly, country, blues, R&B, surf music, and garage rock, attacked with a gritty energy that boosted the impact of his fleet-fingered soloing. Johns was a versatile player who could work with collaborators as diverse as "Redneck Jazz" guitarist Danny Gatton (on Gatton's 1978 album of that name) and Dead Kennedys' vocalist Jello Biafra (he sat in on Biafra's 1994's Prairie Home Invasion, with Mojo Nixon), but on his 1986 debut with his band the H-Bombs, Rollin' Through the Night, he staked out a free-spirited sound that was suitable for crowded honky tonks on a rowdy Saturday night. Late career efforts like 2013's Panoramic Life and 2014's Somewhere Over the Skyline were more subdued, leaning more toward twang than rock & roll, though the raunchy growl of his voice and his hot-rod guitar licks lived up to his legend.

Evan Johns was born in McLean, Virginia on July 12, 1956. He grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and developed a passion for the blues at an early age. Before he was old enough to go to bars, he was a regular visitor to the city's annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where he heard living legends like Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin' Hopkins, Roosevelt Sykes, and Mance Lipscomb, and hung out with them after the shows, discovering they were more eager to chat if he brought them cigarettes. His parents had a combative relationship, and when Johns was 13 years old, he started drinking to ease the stress. He also started playing guitar, and would occasionally take off for weeks at a time, hitchhiking around the country and playing for anyone who wanted to listen. Johns quit school in the tenth grade and set out to make a name for himself on the D.C. music scene, working with regional heroes like Billy Hancock and Tex Rubinowitz, and joining Danny Gatton's band at a time when Gatton was earning a reputation as one of America's greatest unknown guitarists. Johns played on Gatton's 1978 album Redneck Jazz and wrote three songs for the LP, but he lasted less than a year in Gatton's combo before he dropped out. After a spell playing in the Good Humor Band, he formed a combo of his own, Evan Johns His H-Bombs. In 1980, the group self-released a four-song EP, Giddy Up Girl, but it went largely unnoticed. In 1984, the Austin, Texas-based roots rock act the LeRoi Brothers were in need of a guitarist and offered Johns the gig. He accepted, and appeared on their 1985 album Lucky Lucky Me, as well as touring extensively with them.

Wanting to take center stage, Johns left the LeRoi Brothers in late 1985, persuaded the H-Bombs to join him in Austin, and began working on an album with them. That same year, he was invited to sit in with the group Big Guitars from Texas for their debut album, Trash, Twang and Thunder. Johns wrote or co-wrote five tunes on the LP, and it received enthusiastic reviews, going on to be nominated for a Grammy Award. Despite the acclaim, Johns had a hard time finding a home for his album in progress until he crossed paths with Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, who heard the 1980 H-Bombs EP and checked out his live show. When Biafra learned Johns was without a record deal, he offered to release the album on his Alternative Tentacles label, and Rollin' Through the Night appeared in 1986. The album won the approval of roots rock fans, punk rockers, and guitar mavens alike, and the Austin label Jungle Records (which issued Trash, Twang and Thunder) quickly followed up with the group's second album, 1986's Evan Johns and the H-Bombs. (The self-titled album would be reissued on CD as Love Is Murder.) Critics once again heaped praise on Johns and his band, and in 1987 they took a creative detour, serving as backing band for avant-garde musical prankster Eugene Chadbourne on his album Vermin of the Blues. (Johns and Chadbourne would team up again for 1993's Terror Has Some Strange Kinfolk.) Johns next hooked up with the independent Rykodisc label, which released Bombs Away in 1989; the album was produced in part by Garry Tallent of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, who was a fan. A second album for Rykodisc, the rollicking Rockit Fuel Only, came out in 1991, and the same year, Jungle Records helped Johns and his fans celebrate the Christmas season with their first seasonal album, Please, Mr. Santa Claus.

As the 1990s wore on, Johns and his band continued to play regularly, but recorded with less frequency, and years of serious drinking were beginning to catch up with him. It was not unknown for Johns to pass out at gigs while the opening act was playing, only to stagger to the stage when it was time for him to perform. Johns hit bottom in 1998, when a doctor informed him he had only days to live, and he later fell into a coma while trying to withdraw from alcohol. Johns's health had compromised by his drinking even after he gave up alcohol, and outside of reissues and archival live albums, it wasn't until 2008 that he released any new music, when Mystic Titans of Juju, a collaboration with Bubba Coon, came out. Johns self-released an album in 2013, Panoramic Life, that showed his talent hadn't faded even if he wasn't as energetic as before, and the similar Somewhere Over the Skyline appeared the following year. 2016's Evan Johns Does the Great American Songbook, Vol. 1 was another self-released effort that saw him covering rock & roll, country, and folk classics in his own style. There was not to be a Vol. 2; Evan Johns died on March 11, 2017, in a hospital in Austin, Texas following complications from surgery. He was 60 years old. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Evan Johns and The H-Bombs at The Roxy - Wash DC 9-28-87
Evan's Story
Evan Johns 1989 Club Dada Dallas,TX
Evan Johns & The H. Bombs - Dance Frannie Dance
Evan Johns - would not lay my guitar down
Evan Johns guitar on PAWN STARS by.gary talent
Evan Johns And His H-Bombs - Too Drunk To Fuck
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