It’s about dog-gone time: The R&N interview with John Platania
By George A. Fletcher

Guitarist John Platania is used to being approached by famous people asking him to play guitar or produce their records. There are lots of them out there, such as Van Morrison, Don McLean, Bonnie Raitt, and Chip Taylor.

So when cartoon artist Elwood Smith asked John to help him get his songs recorded, it seemed “like another production job,” he said.

But that’s not quite the way it turned out for the guitarist, who after 30 some-odd years is just getting around to his debut CD, “Lucky Dog.”

It also didn’t turn out to be another production job for the cartoon artist. Smith, widely known for his offbeat visual humor that’s been featured in just about every major magazine and newspaper in the world, is also a guitarist and songwriter who served as the CD’s executive producer.

“At first I thought that I would help him get a few songs recorded. Then he asked me to do a whole album. I said, ‘Yeah, but with the caveat that I do what I want (with the material),” he said.

Platania explained he “kind of rewrote things” as he went. “I destroyed his music!” he laughed.

“Elwood writes these really dark songs. I wasn’t frightened but the lyrics are scary. His lyrics are what really sold me. The way he writes made me think differently – outside of the box.”

Perfect match

A one time jazz purist, Smith said that his interest in singer/songwriter-oriented music is connected to his love of “Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Randy Newman, but I’m having a ball checking out others like John Hiatt, Julie Miller … anyone who writes unusual, unpredictable, interesting songs.”
John Platania's debut CD Lucky Dog

Platania said he prefers to work alone but there were exceptions with Smith‘s project. “People hire me and leave me alone. That’s best for me. But Elwood had a lot of input like in the articulation of lyrics. He also has great ears and was really great with mixing.”

Platania said the CD, which is getting a lot of European airplay and Internet sales, contains some pretty desperate stories, about desperate people.

But these stories ring true to life, such as the reggae-tinged “Black Dog & Bad Luck,” the story of a homeless man who succumbs to a life of booze, pills, bad food and the elements, behind the dumpster at the A&P, and “Little Nazi Boy,” about the cycle of hatred begetting hatred.

Saddest and most thought provoking of this collection is “I Do Believe,” written in the wake of a loved one’s passing. Smith’s lyric recalls that person’s last words, “I do believe I hear voices on the other side / I can see loved ones gathered in the light / I do believe I hear voices on the other side.” The song is also performed instrumentally as the CD’s closer.

“Lucky Dog” is both the CD’s title and a curious love song. “I’ve been in love / I’ve been in hate / I’ve been the quarry and I’ve been the bait / I’ve been a hero, and I’ve been a fool / Since you met me and I met you.”

Platania and company do a solid turns with the bluesy “Don’t Nobody Know,” rock (“Numero Uno,” “I Am Time”) and he delivers equally well in an acoustic settings, on such tunes as “Love Stay Away” and “I Can Stand Alone.”

Though known for his guitar playing, Platania can also sing. He delivers each track’s vocal with a natural sincerity that moves between a whisper and growl, just perfect on tracks such as “It Ain’t Gonna Cost You A Dime” and “Fire In Arkansas.”

After years sweetening other people’s music, John Platania is still sweetening other people’s music. That’s what he does best. But this time, with “Lucky Dog,” he gets to call it his own because he made it his own.

“Lucky Dog” is a wonderful collaboration between two immensely talented individuals, but Platania’s world-class guitaring and production makes it stand out as a natural selection of AAA radio programmers and fans of music with brains and heart.

Warm thanks to Elwood H. Smith and Maggie Pickard for their generous artistic contributions to this issue of Rhythm and News magazine.