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Wayne Johnson: Strummin’ to a tune that is all his own

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By Kirsten Laskey

Wayne Wesley Johnson is not one to follow the crowd. How many guitarists can be described as performing “passionate, melodic, rhythmic, romantic, dynamic, finger style jazz and nuevo flamenco?”

“I consider myself an eclectic guitarist,” Johnson said. “My roots are in jazz, (but I’ve) branched out since then.”

He said he has developed his own finger style rumba flamenco as well as finger style improvisational jazz.

Not only does Johnson created his own style of music but he has created his own unique instruments.

With some masking tape, ground pencil lead and finger pads, Johnson modified a guitar to release drum sounds.

He explained he taped up his guitar with masking tape and smudged his fingers with pencil lead to mark different places on the instrument. Then, pads were installed onto his guitar that would release a drum sound when his fingers touched them.

Johnson said the pads are dynamically sensitive MIDI triggers.

They are connected to a controller inside the guitar. Each pad can be programmed to represent a different drum sounds, the harder the pad is hit, Johnson said. Basically he can strum and drum at the same time. Plus, Johnson is able to store tracks on a loop to create orchestral sounds. At times, Johnson will also use a synthesizer.

As result, “I can pretty much please anyone from age 8 to 80 with my repertoire,” he said.

Innovation is something Johnson seems to strive toward. “I’m always trying to find ways to explore my creativity and fulfill my vision in my head,” he explained. Los Alamos audiences will be able to hear a few of Johnson’s musical visions during the upcoming Guitars and Gateaux show from 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Fuller Lodge.

The program that evening will include an original medley, “Melancolia/Caricias para la princessa” as well as “Otono,” “Bossa Nova Medley” by Jobim Hits, “Entre dos Aguas” by Paco de Lucia, “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams,  “Malaguena” by Ernesto Lecuono, “Guitar Rag” by Merle Travis, jazz standards, “Blue Bossa” and “Take Five.” Often what Johnson performs depends on the audience’s reaction. Intuition plays a major role in his program. Johnson explained he plays in the moment; using his memory, heart and head.

Music is something Johnson said he picked up at an early age. He explained he initially wanted to play the drums but his father told he couldn’t – the drums were too loud. So, Johnson picked his second favorite instrument, the guitar. This decision led to a 50-year career in music.

Throughout all the years, Johnson said, “I’m not a conformist. I like doing things different than anybody else.” He added, “I like to keep them guessing. I’m like a moving target.”

It’s been a successful strategy. Johnson has release five albums and sold 80,000 recordings world-wide. Another distinct quality about Johnson is that he was the first performer of the Guitars and Gateaux series.  And he is happy to return to the guitar series.

“It’s a nice venue,” Johnson said. “It’s a fun opportunity and (hopefully) we have a good audience.”

Admission to the show is $10 for Los Alamos Arts Council members and $15 for non-members. The arts council sponsors the series.