Featuring a band lineup that includes some major southern rock and jam band names, Johnny & the Mongrels have released a new original album, Creole Skies. Front man Johnny Ryan said the band, with a sound informed by the great artists of New Orleans and a dash of West Coast funk, is champing at the bit to hit the concert stage, or at least to start streaming some shows.
Ryan and bassist Jeff Bostic, who both live in northern Colorado, formed the band years ago, and Ryan said that they love the sounds of the bayou even though they aren’t natives. “It boils down to me and Jeff, he’s the creator of the band with me,” Ryan told American Songwriter. “We’ve been together as the Mongrels since about 2015, doing a lot of grinding, playing little places, and always writing, trying to develop a catalog. We did an EP of just a few songs to get the ball rolling in 2016, and then went back into the woodshed as songwriters.”
“Jeff and I met producer JoeBaby Michaels at an international blues competition where he was a judge,” Ryan continued, “and he said he wanted to do a record with us. He’d worked with great singers like Ivan Neville and Shaun Murphy, some of the same type of stuff we wanted to do ourselves. We really love this New Orleans-influenced, very Louisiana-influenced kind of music and want to expose it to more people. We’re all about that music and culture, and we’ve written stories about what we’ve experienced in that kind of style.”
Michaels helped Ryan and Bostic assemble an all-star Mongrels lineup. Those players include Bill McKay, former keyboardist for Leftover Salmon and the Derek Trucks Band, and Scott Sharrard, who was Gregg Allman’s guitarist and bandleader until Allman’s death. Sharrard currently is also filling the guitar/vocal role in Little Feat, replacing Paul Barrere, who died last fall. Renowned pedal steel guitarist Marty Rifkin (Tom Petty, Ryan Adams) also plays on three tracks of Creole Skies.
“JoeBaby basically knew all these guys, had worked with them or wanted to,” Ryan said. “We went to New York City where Scott lived, had some writing sessions with him and got his input on what he thought could work. Bill McKay also brought a song to the project. So we came to the studio with a pretty strong framework, and we did a lot of jamming on the songs. A lot of the album is first takes of us playing live, it was just so good we decided to keep it. We recorded at a studio right on the Louisiana bayou, just got immersed in the feel, the muddy water going by, slow and tranquil. And once in a while the splash of an alligator. It really inspired all of us.”
Bostic, who actually toured Europe and sang in the Vatican as a young choir singer, shares both lead and background vocals. “I wanted to make sure this isn’t just me singing and saying it’s my record,” Ryan said. “I love having more textures than just me, and Jeff is amazing. The first time I saw him he was singing and playing bass and I just knew I had to work with him. He just knocks it out of the park.” Bostic has also played bass with his sister, Nashville-based country and CCM artist Jenn Bostic. Ryan said he’s eager to road test the new lineup and the new material as soon as possible. “We’ve got a great team, with management in New York City and PR in Nashville, and everybody is ready to do what they have to when we can finally get out there. For now, we’re putting together live streaming shows, but we’re kind of at the mercy of the world and what’s going on. So we’re trying to be as creative as we possibly can, and figure out every possible way that we can to share this music with everybody.”