Interview: Black Star Riders’ Damon Johnson discusses new tour with Judas Priest
Photo by: Richard Stow and used with permission.

In the past five years, Black Star Riders has released three critically-acclaimed albums and toured regularly all across Europe. Although U.S. fans have long been clamoring to see guitar hero, Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy), as well as Damon Johnson (guitars), Ricky Warwick (vocals), Robert Crane (bass) and Chad Szeliga (drums), the band has been unable to gain a steady foothold of touring on American soil.

That is, until now.

Black Star Riders—which evolved out of Thin Lizzy after the band decided to record new music—is about to embark on an extensive North American tour with metal legends Judas Priest on their Firepower Tour along with veteran rockers, Saxon. The tour, which begins March 13 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. , will have the band traveling across the United States and into Canada.

Black Star Riders’ third album, Heavy Fire (released last year) was a monumental step forward. From the trademark, Lizzy-inspired, dual-guitar attack on songs like “Testify or Say Goodbye”, to the to the dirty bass groove on “Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed”, Heavy Fire has firmly established the band as one of the world’s premier rock acts, and one not to be missed.

AXS recently spoke with Damon Johnson about the new Black Star Riders tour with Judas Priest and Saxon and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: The obvious first question to ask is, what can fans expect from Black Star Riders on this new tour?

Damon Johnson: You can expect to see a collection of guys who are energized about having an opportunity to be in North America playing our songs on some big stages. We have a huge following in Europe and the U.K. and have spent a majority of our time there. And even though we haven't really toured in the United States to any great degree, we know that there’s a lot of interest in our band in the States. We’ve also done it right by having three albums to build our repertoire. Although there may be some people who don’t know who we are, we're confident the songs will stand on their own and that people will want to check us out even more.

AXS: As a music fan, what thoughts come to mind being on tour with metal legends like Judas Priest and Saxon?

DJ: My thoughts immediately go back to when I was just out of high school. It was a magical time when I was really starting to branch out and listen to more hard rock players like Randy Rhoads. I remember I was in a band and our drummer had this insane album collection. He had all the [Judas] Priest, [Iron] Maiden and Saxon. I have such respect for that music and their legacy. Point of Entry is my favorite Priest album that I still listen to this very day. Being out with these guys is going to be incredible.

AXS: What can you tell me about your Signature Epiphone guitars you’ll be bringing with you on tour?

DJ: I’m so proud of my relationship with Epiphone, which actually dates all the way back to 1993, when the first Brother Cane album came out. They make a lot of great stuff and I’ve been playing their black Custom Pro Les Paul. I’ve also always been a big of fan of Korina wood but have never had a Korina V.  I thought, what better guitar to pull out on a Judas Priest tour than a Flying V? [laughs]. It’s a great partnership and I’m looking forward to continuing it while I'm out on tour.

AXS: Black Star Riders released their third album, Heavy Fire, last year. How has the reaction been?

DJ: Across the board, people have commented on how we've been able to step forward and establish our own identity with it. We'll always be proud of the Thin Lizzy connection, and there will never be a time when any of us will be in the rehearsal room and say, “We shouldn’t play that song because it sounds too much like Thin Lizzy.” We never consciously sit down and think we're going to write something that sounds like Thin Lizzy but the fact is we've got the guy on guitar in our band [laughs]. It's in the DNA. Ricky Warwick studied the craft at the feet of Phil Lynott and the influences he had. But it’s really all about us doing music we love and writing songs that we enjoy and want to hear over and over. Having a collection of fans that feel the same way is an added bonus. To have fans and journalists tell us that Heavy Fire was a big step forward is incredibly fulfilling and fuels us to keep evolving and experimenting on the next record.

AXS: Last fall, you released your live solo album, Birmingham Tonight. What can you tell me about it?

DJ: I played a show in my hometown in March of 2016 and my band knocked it out of the park. We played over two hours of music and I went in with the goal of eventually putting out a live record. It's turned out to be a great statement at this point in my career. Celebrating all the music of my past as well as some new material. The reaction to it has been great and I’m so proud to have it as part of my discography.

AXS: What excites you the most about the new tour and this next phase of your career with Black Star Riders?

DJ: No doubt, the thing that excites me the most is for us to be out with Judas Priest and Saxon in North America. It's almost strange that Black Star Riders is composed of four guys that live in America, but we do most of our work in Europe. We know that we have people’s attention now and we won’t take it for granted. It pushes us to keep the bar raised as high as we can and to step outside of the box. As a collective, we've never loved music more or been more driven to write, create and perform. There's a good chemistry within the band and I think it's going to lead to a lot of good things for the rest of this year and beyond.