GUI­TARIST EVAN JOHNS LEFT HIS MARK ON AUSTIN MU­SIC

He was part of Big Gui­tars From Texas, LeRoi Broth­ers.

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Peter Black­stock pblack­stock@states­man.com Con­tact Peter Black­stock at 512-445-3762.

Evan Johns, who moved to Austin from Vir­ginia three decades ago and be­came one of the city’s most prom­i­nent guitarists and col­or­ful char­ac­ters, died Satur­day night at St. David’s South Austin Med­i­cal Cen­ter af­ter com­pli­ca­tions from re­cent surg­eries. He was 60.

Born July 12, 1956, Johns was raised in the Washington sub­urb of McLean, Va., and was al­ready prodi­gious on gui­tar in his early teens. Work­ing early on with leg­endary D.C.-area gui­tarist Danny Gat­ton, Johns be­came a fix­ture on the city’s rock­a­billy and roots-rock scenes. His group the H-Bombs briefly backed up hit­mak­ing pop group the Star­land Vo­cal Band in the late 1970s, Johns’ child­hood friend Ivan Brown said Sun­day.

In 1984, Johns moved to Austin when drum­mer Mike Buck called him to ask if he wanted to re­place de­part­ing gui­tarist Don Leady in the LeRoi Broth­ers, a top band in the 1980s Austin root­srock scene. “I didn’t re­ally ex­pect him to come down here, but I thought I’d give it a shot,” Buck re­called. “Much to my sur­prise, he said yes.”

Johns’ stint in the LeRoi Broth­ers led to his par­tic­i­pa­tion in Big Gui­tars From Texas, a lo­cal all-star “gui­tar army” whose 1985 al­bum “Trash, Twang & Thun­der” earned a Grammy nom­i­na­tion. Even­tu­ally Johns left the LeRois and brought Brown down to Austin for a new ver­sion of the H-Bombs that also in­cluded Mark Korpi and Jim Star­board.

Johns’ move south helped lure others from the D.C. area to Austin. In 1987, a teenage Kelly Wil­lis and her beau Mas Palermo came here to pur­sue mu­sic and got a big head start when Johns hooked them up with Car­lyne Ma­jer, his man­ager at the time.

“I handed him our demo tape, he dug it, and he handed it to Car­lyne,” Palermo re­called. “Ev­ery­thing hap­pened pretty fast.”

Ma­jer be­gan man­ag­ing Wil­lis and her band, lead­ing to an MCA Records deal.

In the 1990s, Johns re­lo­cated to west­ern Canada for a few years, at one point fall­ing into a coma. Brown re­mem­bers fly­ing up to see Johns, who dealt with al­co­holism for most of his life, in Canada af­ter be­ing told Johns wasn’t likely to sur­vive. But he did, mov­ing back to Austin and be­com­ing mu­si­cally ac­tive here again.

Fur­ther health crises marked his later years, in­clud­ing a bro­ken hip in 2010 that caused him con­stant pain for the rest of his life. But his move into a South Austin af­ford­able hous­ing com­plex helped sta­bi­lize and rein­vig­o­rate his cre­ative pur­suits. He re­leased two al­bums in the past two years and was work­ing on an­other when he died, ac­cord­ing to Kris­ten An­der­son, Brown’s wife.

“He had a heart the size of Texas, but he could give hell­fire” on gui­tar, An­der­son said.

“That’s the way he played,” Brown added. “No­body played like him, and he didn’t play like any­one else.”

Sur­vivors in­clude his mother, Emma Wood­ward, of West Vir­ginia, and broth­ers David and Michael.

Ser­vices are pend­ing.

Austin’s Evan Johns re­leased two al­bums in the past two years.

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