Once upon a time at an undisclosed location, rock n’ roll was born. Rock music emerged on the scene with such a bold, distinctive sound that a bandwagon effect ensued; with early rockers soon shadowed by more rock bands offering strikingly similar “distinctions.” Yet while many music genres would peak and stagnate, rock has ironically remained on a roll of perpetual motion, ever-adapting and always evolving.
The year was 1986: a time when fads came and went faster than your first paycheck and in Philadelphia, PA, Britny Fox was born. Sporting a look partly inspired by the revolutionary (albeit, flamboyant) rock icons who preceded them, (Alice Cooper, KISS, Bowie) Britny Fox shined in the 80’s limelight. With a painted-pirate appeal and their luscious manes, Britny Fox really knew how to put the “Oh!” in show.
On a cool morning last month, hot ceramic cups of java brimmed with steamed milk as Britny Fox’s drummer Johnny Dee sat down to chat, took a load off and stopped in between questions to smell the coffee.
Dee has had a long and illustrious music career which has taken him across the globe, so with Britny Fox, he has again come full circle. According to Dee, their unique namesake “Britny Fox” came about in a most unusual manner as Dee explained: “Our original singer Dean Davidson was looking at his family history, and found a distant relative named Britny Fox. He thought it was catchy and pretty cool, and we kind of based the whole look around it, [as well as changing the spelling a bit] and that was really it.”
Dee then painted a vivid portrait of the rock scene in the 80’s: “The Philly scene was pretty happening back then; we were all basically just trying to make it, or whatever we were trying to do!” Dee chuckles as he continues. “We knew that there were certain ways you had to achieve your goal, –garage bands, basement bands, backyard parties, etcetera, and we were all really just trying to grab the brass ring. Back then, there weren’t too many venues playing hard rock and that kind of heavier music, so we all gravitated to the venues that were, like the Empire Rock Room in NE Philly, and The Galaxy in South Jersey.
However, the road to glam and glory hasn’t been without its share of detours. Consequently, the band has gone through some changes over the years. But like the Phoenix, Britny Fox has reemerged once again, with a lineup of talented musicians: Tommy Paris- vocals/guitar, Billy Childs – bass, Johnny Dee – drums, and Chris Sanders- guitar.
Ironically, Dee admitted that he first met Britny Fox’s bassist Billy Childs, in his basement of all places! At the time, Dee was playing drums in another band, and admittedly, was getting pretty good at it. Reminiscing, Dee explained, “One day, I had these two older cats knock on my door and they said, ‘Yeah, we hear you playing drums out here on the street.’ They were a couple years older than me, and I honestly thought they were going to complain or whatever; Dee laughs through the story as he tells it, “but then they said, ‘Well, we need a drummer. He went on to say after that, this was all about tackling the stacks of LPs, with all the new songs to learn, and that was sorta it for me,” confessed Dee.
Yet, when asked, why glam, Dee had a much simpler explanation: “I think we were a product of the time more than anything, and the stuff that we grew up on: obviously, Alice Cooper and KISS, Sweet, Slade and Bowie, all that stuff sorta thrown into a big pot.” Dee contends that “the music was simple, you know, good-time anthems, that type of arena rock… It’s what we grew up on, and what we wanted to represent.”
Being able to represent is exactly what Britny Fox has done too. With timeless hits like Girlschool and Rock Revolution still making their rounds, it appears Britny Fox is carving their initials on the playlists of yet another generation of music lovers. Speaking of music lovers, Dee gave us a rundown of some of his own earliest musical inspirations. “My age group when we saw KISS it was like, ‘fuggedaboutit!’ (spoken with a clear Philly accent). They were so different than anything we had seen— also, early Alice, and I was really into Deep Purple and some of the heavier bands as well. But to see KISS and to hear KISS live, and just the photographs, and everything, really just took it to a whole new level.”
Dee also talked about his own history stating, “I was in a few bans before Britny that weren’t so ‘glammy,’ but you know, we were trying to dress up and look like Van Halen–with the striped pants, wearing Capezio’s and the hair teased up. We had handkerchiefs wherever you could tie them” Dee lets out a strong chuckle as he continues to reminisce. “It was just basically like, ‘this is what we’ve gotta look like, and everyone was doing it,’ but then, everyone was trying to stick out after awhile too.” What set Dee and Britny Fox apart from the other cookie cutter acts? Dee explained stating, “I think Britny Fox had a little bit of our own look, with the frilly shirts and the whole British Renaissance gone haywire sorta thing.”
Partial to Dee’s heart are songs he and the band wrote and sang; to this day the list hasn’t changed. Dee smiles as he contemplates. “Well lets see, there’s Girlschool from the first album and obviously our most successful video. It’s just a good anthem, a good time song, people can kinda move along to it and it gets the asses up and shaking.
Here’s a bit of Johnny Dee trivia for you; Dee actually went to art school before he bailed out to pursue music. He then laughed while exclaiming, “thankfully it worked!” In addition to touring with Britney Fox, when they had time and intermissions, Dee played with the German band, Doro, for 22 years and counting. He also is a self-proclaimed frustrated photographer, so while touring the globe he’s clicking away, especially when European architecture or anything historic catches his eye.
Photo Credit: Mark Weiss
Predictably, when asked, “who would you most like to jam with?” Dee’s response is always candid, “Any of the bands I grew up on, like Iron Maiden, Zeppelin, KISS, or Judas Priest.” However, as far as a rock song he’d like to cover, he had much more to say in that direction. “I just saw RUSH on their 40th Anniversary tour and I’d like to cover an old RUSH song, something from the first three or four albums, something angry, like Anthem, etc… one that’s fast, aggressive and cool.” He admits that he was quite a “Rushhead” back in the day, and believes that being a RUSH fan really improved his musical ability because surprisingly, he had no formal training whatsoever. Dee says he just learned by “listening to heroes in the days when we were head zones in the basement, cranking up the stereo with an album on—just trying to play along with your favorite songs, that’s kinda how I did it.” Fortunately, he claims Britny Fox’s own Tommy can “actually sing some of that stuff”(by RUSH) as well, so keep your fingers crossed!
Interestingly, Dee said that Britny Fox’s biggest crowd to date was on New Years Eve, (1988-89) at the Tokyo Dome in Japan, where they rocked 50,000 fans along with RATT and Kingdom Come at the Big Egg Concert. He likened it to the Super Bowl (because of all the people in the stadium) and the unbelievable experience was one he describes as truly mind blowing.
There are many myths in this world but not so many truths, so when you hear one, it’s refreshing. Does size matter? You bet. Venue size that is. “Though it may sound cliche,” Dee states, “I just take each gig for what it is. You can literally have as much fun at a small show as you can at a big show.” Consequently, Dee pointed out some unique challenges for the band, being that they regularly play small and large venues.
“When playing at the big festivals,” explains Dee, “You have to set up in a half an hour on a stage as big as a football field. Working with such a rigid timeline is a ritual for the headliners, for example, Bon Jovi; it’s a real challenge for bands who bounce between playing clubs and arenas.” Dee also noted how on an expansive, unfamiliar stage, the sound quality varies so dramatically from the smaller gigs, that Dee painfully admitted, “You don’t get such a good sound on the big stages; everyone is so far away from each other, so it’s hard to really enjoy at times, ’cause you have to focus so much on what you’re doing.” But even so, Dee still describes it as a mind blowing and unforgettable experience to be sure.” In contrast, he believes smaller venues have the advantage of having a great sound, where you hear everything perfectly with the fans up in your face, and you can really feed off their energy. “But it really doesn’t matter which it is, to me,” Johnny confessed. “Just as long as it’s a good gig, and people are totally into it, I’m totally down with that.”
With today’s technology, the once, clearly-defined line between fans and friends has forever been blurred. In the year 2015, social media has left once untouchable rock stars little more than a click away. As far as the most devoted fans go, there is one female fan/friend who Dee has kept in touch with since the beginning of Britny Fox. But this is no ordinary Britny Fox fan, to be sure. According to Dee, this fan “has our name (logo) and my autograph, tattooed on her arm, which is something that’s pretty intense!” In fact, to his knowledge, Dee believes it’s “the only one in existence, so it pretty damn cool!” Now THAT is what’s called devotion.
Dee went on to explain, “The rock industry has really changed over the years; it’s pretty much what anyone who has gone through that long of a career will explain to you. The delivery system now is so different from back in the 70’s.” Dee takes a breath then continued. “There was only so many ways you could find out about a band back then; like the local radio station, on TV, (which wasn’t really happening all that much) or just going into a record store and randomly buying one, or by your friends—your circle of friends was so much smaller back then than it is now,” retorted Dee. “We all had a common knowledge of things, we knew more what to expect, what music we wanted to get into, what bands were out and what they were doing.”
However, when questioned about the effect of the Internet on the music industry, Dee described it as being blown wide open. “Now, anybody, at anytime of day, anywhere in the world,” stated Dee, “can just get online and listen to music for free; it’s just… there’s no comparison.” Dee described the Internet as being great and horrible at the same time. “It’s chaotic for me,” states Dee, “because we grew up in a time that was more simplified. Now, I don’t even know where to go to get music. Record stores are closing (or are closed) and the Internet is a wash of insanity unless you just stay in one place all the time— so it’s hard to understand the methods kids these days use to get the music they really want or maybe they just go to a site that stylistically provides a list from the style they are into, or by networking with friends, but who knows?”
Photo Credit: Mark Weiss
Yet for reunited bands and would-be rock stars, he believes the Internet forces musicians to change their outlook on how they’re going to do things. “Before it was like, ‘should I put on clown makeup and go out on stage?’ but now it’s kinda like, ‘what can I do to go viral, should I light myself on fire? Play on the guitar?’ Whatever will draw people to actually watch and share your music and your videos, is what you do.” Dee continued, “It’s changed, but yet it’s kinda the same, it’s just that you just need to approach it in a much different style now. I mean it’s great for the smaller bands to build a global following, whereas before, you had to tour constantly/year round to build a fan base and sell records, and pay for expenses. And hopefully from the money you were making for record sales— but now it’s just turned inside out.” Dee took a breath and stated, “Now, we’re all going out to play shows, to promote records, to make money to pay expenses. But as long as people are still going out to shows to see bands, and pay even a little bit for their music, I think it can survive.”
Tragically though, (as any true rocker will tell you) Dee lamented, “The biggest effect is people don’t sell records anymore, which is a shame. There’s no communal kind of thing now, everyone is very individualistic about their music. There’s no more sitting around the stereo, listening with all your friends. Just having little earbuds in your ears is not like a rock-n-roll party.”
However, as any true fan who frequents live shows will tell you, musical unity is an unforgettable experience to share with your friends, and with Britny Fox back on the scene, how can we pass up such a good time at a Britny Fox style rock n’ roll party?