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Ghost Hounds – Johnny Baab

Ghost Hounds – Johnny Baab

The saying ‘with bad comes good’ certainly rings true with rock band Ghost Hounds Guitarist Johnny Baab as he overcame a horrible accident and through hard work and perseverance, he and bandmates Lead Vocalist Tre’ Nation, Guitarist Thomas Tull, Bassist Bennett Miller, Drummer Blaise Lanzetta and Keyboardist Joe Munroe are showing just how extraordinarily talented they are. Their debut album ROSES ARE BLACK released in 2019 spotlight their single “Bad News” which appeared in the movie Sonic the Hedgehog. They also toured with Bob Seger, ZZ Top and The Rolling Stones in Washington D.C. Now, they are again opening for The Rolling Stones on some of their U.S. tour dates and have recently released their second album A LITTLE CALAMITY.
Catching up with Baab while on tour, he revealed some details of Ghost Hounds incredible new music, as well as how the band came together, their background and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: This is exciting, you’re touring with The Rolling Stones (No Filter tour). How did this come about?
Johnny Baab: Well, we did a show with them a couple years back. For this tour, I think we’re doing our sixth show with them coming up on Saturday. We’re in Austin, TX right now, and then we have one more left down in your neck of the woods. Down in Florida at the Hard Rock. So, we were fortunate to build a good relationship with those guys back in 2019 and we’re honored to be back out with them. It’s been nothing short of a wild ride.

SFL Music: What can fans look forward to with your show? I love the music and I see the energy, but what can fans look forward to?
Baab: Oh, wow! Well, I imagine that we’re playing it live in front of some people for the first time, so we’re thrilled and excited to make new friends, and we hope that they have as much fun as we have, playing these shows.

SFL Music: Let’s talk about the new album, your second album A LITTLE CALAMITY. How did it come about? What was the inspiration?
Baab: Well, Thomas our other guitar player, he handles one part of the guitars and I do the other, but he’s a fantastic songwriter and he brought in some really great tunes that he had been working on, and we kind of booked out a week where we said, hey, let’s get in the studio and try to put these down on wax and we tracked the record live. So, you know, once he showed us the tunes that he had written, we just said, ok, let’s try playing it now. So, it was a really organic experience and it’s definitely a record that we’re all super proud of.

SFL Music: Was there any kind of a theme that went into this or was each song inspired by whatever was happening at the time?
Baab: I think that it has a wide spectrum of topics. Thomas is a very visual storyteller, so for me, whenever I hear his lyrics, I always get to see the whole story. See the characters involved and you know, they’re not necessarily about any single one of us. It could be. It could be an overlap, but I think our goal was just to make sure that his vision came to life in terms of the songs he had written and you know, I think they turned out pretty darn well.

SFL Music: I just saw the latest video “Between Me and the Devil”. It’s really cool. How did that song come about? Was there any particular inspiration?
Baab: Yeah, so it actually kind of ties into the name of our band. Ghost Hounds is kind of a nod and an homage to the legend of Robert Johnson who as the legend says you know, down at the crossroads he sold his soul to the devil in order for the exchange of his musical ability, and that’s how the band name came about way back in I guess, the early 2000’s when Thomas first started the band. I think that song “Between Me and the Devil” is just kind of like a narrative on that legend and it’s something that has been so influential in the course of blues and rock music that it’s great for us to be able to you know, give a nod and bring it back full circle to the origins.

SFL Music: How did the video come about? Where was that shot? It looked like the desert with the mountains?
Baab: Yeah. So, the part with the desert was actually shot in Utah and the other parts of it were shot, some were in Pittsburgh. Some were in Utah. Our director for that Jay Arcansalin, he’s an incredible visionary and him and Thomas came up with this vision, and the only thing I can say is, I’m just glad I didn’t have to hold the snake.

SFL Music: I don’t blame you. Do you have a fear of snakes or just a dislike?
Baab: I think just a tremendous respect for their ability (he laughed).

SFL Music: I like that. That’s a good way of putting it. I was going to ask you about Pittsburgh. There are a lot of bands and artists that have come from Pittsburgh, PA. You all are based in Pittsburgh. Does that have any play in the band’s music?
Baab: You know, I think Pittsburgh has a very, very rich history and background with music. It’s steeped in legends that have come, born and raised out of there, and also the likes of what is more relatable to us where a bunch of us relocated there, and so that’s our home base. What I can say is it’s been a tremendous honor to be a part of a Pittsburgh music scene, but it’s not lost on me of all the legends that have come out. All the great jazz music. There’s some great hip hop that’s come out, rock and roll and it’s just a wonderful thing to be a part of that.

SFL Music: What is your personal influence? What got you into music? What drew you to play guitar?
Baab: Well, funny you should mention that. My parents are both musical. My dad plays drums. My mom sings, and so I kind of grew up just always around music and I grew up in Brooklyn. In New York City and in the nineties, VH1 had a program called Save The Music. It’s still around, but it was really like an important part of my experience in music because I was playing in the orchestra in grade school and I think I was playing mandolin at the time and my dad saw, my dad who like grew up on classic rock was like, man I need to get this kid a guitar. And that was when I was eight years old and I’ve never played mandolin again (he laughed). You know, like I thought wow! This is the coolest thing, and I still feel that way when it comes to playing guitars. Like this is the coolest thing anyone could ever do and I’m just glad that I, for better or for worse, stuck with it when everyone was telling me not to. That was twenty-four years ago. So, it’s been a long journey and I’m glad to be able to carry on the torch a little and inspire maybe and show some younger folk that a cool way to live is just that you know, getting to play music. I would love to bring the guitar solo back in style. I don’t know if it necessarily ever went out, but I think it’s a cool thing to be able to show people of all ages that there is a path where you can pursue what you love and your passion, and it also be not like a total crap shoot. So, If I am able to inspire anyone out there to just lean a little bit more into what they’re passionate about. That’s part of I feel like a civic duty of being a musician. So, hopefully at least one or two people (he laughed).

SFL Music: I think you’ll reach more than that! Did you take formal lessons?
Baab: School of the hard knocks baby. School of the hard knocks. You know what? I think it’s just such a huge part of my playing is that I just listened to records and tried to recreate what I was hearing. So, there was a phase of imitation, a phase of assimilation and then hopefully a phase of innovation where you know, at first, you’re just kind of a parrot and you’re just picking up from all different influences, and then you sort of combine them and eventually get to make them your own. So, for me, I wish I had more of a traditional like background in music, but I’m also glad that I don’t because it just makes me play what I feel and what I hear and what sounds right to me.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to up-and-coming musicians?
Baab: Just never stop playing and there’s always something to learn. I remember in college, I was studying business and playing baseball in college, but I was also listening to like trumpet players in order to get new phrasing for my guitar lines. And also, just like play a lot of shows. I was in the New York City music scene for a long time and you know, just playing like six nights a week and just non-stop playing. You learn a lot in kind of like a self-discovery mode when you just are fluent and immersed in it.

SFL Music: Is that how you ended up with everybody in this band knowing the industry?
Baab: Yeah so, I’ve known Blaise and Bennett the longest out of everybody. We used to run around New York City and in that music scene, you know, play gigs with each other. Run into each other as freelance like musician all the time, but right before I joined up with Thomas, essentially in a nut shell, I got into like a really bad accident where I was hit and run over by a car and I was spending all my time rehabilitating. I wasn’t able to play guitar and as I was just starting to regain some of my ability to play, a mutual friend called me and introduced me to Thomas and we hit it off. He’s one of my best friends right now and I’m so grateful that we had that introduction because we sort of met up and we’re like hey, like we’re both getting back into playing music right now for different reasons, but kind of like synchronizing in a cross roads here, and we want to play music that we would want to hear, and that to us was kind of like bringing back a sound that maybe isn’t so popular on mainstream radio anymore. So, we wanted to play rock and roll and we needed to find the right people to do it with, so I called Bennett and Blaise. We found Tre’ through like a serendipitous moment of like I saw a clip of him on social media playing with one of my friends and it kind of just fell together from there, and once we got in a room with each other and started playing shows, it just was like wow! This really made sense as sort of like put together as it was, it was so organic because it was just like yeah, let’s play some music with our friends, and that is to me what’s so amazing about this ensemble and this collection of people is that we are all truly like great friends. And I think it’s not lost on me how lucky it is to be in a band where everyone loves each other. Everyone gets along. Everyone is professional. Everyone is into the music. You know, you hear so many horror stories about bands hating each other and I’m really grateful that I was able to be a part of getting this group together because I really do feel like when you have the right personnel, you know, we have the right ingredients, the recipe will be delicious.

SFL Music: Tell me about the song “Good Old Days”. Originally it was inspired by missing being on the road during of the pandemic and then the pandemic kind of played into it. Elaborate on that for people please to understand the inspiration of that song.
Baab: Sure. I think that there are a lot of external factors in life that can pull someone from realizing how great things are right now in the moment. There’s always, some worry about the future or some hang up from the past, but we made a commitment to each other that we were going to enjoy what we were doing while it was happening. We didn’t want to look back and be like wow, I can’t believe we just did a tour with ZZ Top. So, we kind of made a pack as a band to stay present and stay appreciative and to have gratitude for not only the people in our lives, but also the experiences that we were having. So, that song “Good Old Days” is essentially about you know, they’re happening right now. Don’t wait and try to look back and say wow, those were the good old days! So, Thomas again, he’s such a visual songwriter that when he put that into words to us, we literally were like, yeah man, that’s totally correct. That’s exactly right. Let’s stay present and let’s commit to that and you know, he wrote a great song out of it.

SFL Music: Yes, definitely. That’s a great story! Words of wisdom. Was there anything else new for fans to look forward to? I understand you’re working on new blues music, but is there anything else coming up?
Baab: Obviously, we have a show in Austin on the 20th and in Hollywood Florida on the 23rd so, we’re hoping that we just make some more new friends and we can share more experiences together.

SFL Music: Definitely see a very bright future for you guys.
Baab: Thank you.

SFL Music: You’re welcome. Was there anything else that you wanted fans to know about the band?
Baab: I want fans to know that rock and roll is still alive. Let’s go (he laughed)! If I can give one more thing here, I just want to give a shout out to my band members that I was speaking about earlier. We have some incredible musicians in the band and even better people like I mentioned. Thomas Tull plays guitars a long with me. We have Bennett Miller on bass, Blaise Lanzetta on drums, Joe Munroe on keyboards and organ. We have the illustrious Tre’ Nation on vocals. That guy’s a powerhouse. Still to this day you know, I get to hear him sing a lot, but every time he opens his mouth, I stop what I’m doing. I get goosebumps. And also, these shows we have coming up, we also have a wonderful array of background singer with us. Kamilah Marshall, Kenna Ramsey, Amy Keys. They hold it down with Tre’ on vocals so, I’m really proud of being a part of this group. I hope everyone gets to check us out and gets to experience those people as well.

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