How Music has Impacted Harry Barton of N'awlins Johnnys Life

Describe N’awlins Johnnys music in three words.

Funky NOLA Rock

What does N’awlins Johnnys mean as a name? What is the origin of it?

A ‘New Orleans Johnny’ was what my grandfather and his WWII Navy buddies used to refer to as a sailor who missed his port time due to being shacked up with a lady of the evening somewhere in the city. One day I met him for lunch and something about my outfit made him comment to me (in his Baton Rouge drawl), “Boy, you look like a Naaawwwlins Johnny.” Something about the way he said it stuck in my head, and I didn’t learn what it meant until well after we’d named the band and by then it was a done deal.

What song/music reminds you of home? Where is home?

The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Rebirth, Anders, Papa Gros, the Dirty Dozen, Toussaint, KRVS, WWOZ… Individually, the guys in the band are from all over, but for us collectively, I think home is a sweaty bar room anywhere in New Orleans on any night of the week where bands like those are playing and people are drinking, dancing, and sweating their cares away. 

Who are some of your musical influences?

All of the above plus Tab Benoit, Professor Longhair, Amos Milburn, Warren Zevon, Clifton Chenier, and at a point, the guys in the band all start to influence each other.

What is the band’s artistic creative process like?

Songs usually start with the lyrics, a desired mood or feel, and a melody. That loose sketch gets brought into the practice room, and then we find a structure and more solid grounding for the tune with guitars, bass, and drums. Once we’ve got that, the horn section puts their stamp on it, and we’ve got a tune.  Sometimes, the best times, they come together in just a night or two.  Other songs we’re still working on after years of playing them. 

Why do y’all think music is so important to the people and culture of New Orleans?

New Orleans music is what makes this place different from anywhere else in the world, and the fact that we are so different contributes to how unique and diverse New Orleans music is. It is symbiotic in that way. That came to be well before anyone that lives here now was born, and it will continue on after we’re gone. It is our rallying cry, our calling card, and our pride and joy.

Allen Toussaint once stated, “Music is everything to me short of breathing. Music also has a role to lift you up-not to be escapist-but to take you out of misery.” With that being said, how has music gotten y’all through hard times in your life?

For me, the hardest time in my life so far was when I went through a divorce. That pretty much directly corresponds to when I started writing songs and playing out. You hear this from so many people that it’s almost a cliche, but channeling the pain and the things I wanted to say to, or about, my ex through a creative process to make something personal, real, and positive helped my through it in a way that nothing else really could have.  
I know that for John (Marcey - lead guitarist and co-writer), music has always been a constant for him through lots of ups and downs. He first got good at guitar when he had surgery on his leg and was laid up for nearly an entire summer, which at the age of 12 or 13 is an eternity. Someone got him a guitar, and he just played and played. He stuck with it and completed the NOCCA program - I think because playing guitar was something he was exceptionally good at, and it gave him a sense of self worth at an age when that can be hard to come by.  

Most recently, Phil (Arpa - Alto sax) had a really bad run of health earlier this year and at the end of 2015. He was in and out of the hospital for around 8 weeks. It was seriously bleak, but one of the things that got him through and got him healed up faster was that he wanted to be back on stage doing what he loves. That was pretty impressive to witness, and once he was out of the woods, it was an absolute pleasure to see him come out of a hard spot and just flourish. He’s got something very special up his sleeve for our Wednesday at the Square show, and I can’t wait to see him let it loose. 

The N’awlins Johnnys have gained traction locally from playing at various venues both in New Orleans and Lafayette to playing in the festival circuit to closing down this year’s Wednesdays at the Square with Tab Benoit. What can we expect from the N’awlins Johnnys in the coming years?

You can look for us to turn our focus toward making a full length album. Being a live band has always come easy to us because we love it, and it feels natural. Now we kind of have this idea like none of what we’ve done is real unless we take the plunge into the studio and produce something that captures what we’ve become through honing our sound over hundreds of gigs. Of course, we’ll keep on gigging in our favorite clubs too, and we hope to be establishing a bigger presence on the festival scene. 

Last one, and it’s a fun zinger: You’re belting out a jam in the shower, selecting a song on a jukebox, or cruising down the streets of NOLA on a beautiful spring day, what is your song of choice?

INXS, Devil Inside. I have no shame about that at all.