Formerly the lead guitar player with multi BMA-award winner Louisiana Red, Johnny Ticktin (pronounced Tick-Tin), along with the Headhunters, is set to release his 8th album, “That’s All I Need.” The ten tracks are a testimony to his life-long obsession with the six string, covering the gamut of guitar centric styles from surf and swing to blues, Mambo and classic R&B. The Headhunters are joined by a couple of special guests on the collection of songs from heroes like Lowell Fulson, Magic Sam, and Link Wray that have shaped Ticktin’s guitar playing over the years.
The album opens with swamp blues proto type ‘That’s All I Need,’ from Magic Sam’s seminal 1967 album “West Side Soul.” Johnny pushes the tremolo guitar sound that made Sam famous even further evoking CCR and Tony Joe White. Venerated D.C. area keyboardist, Tam Sullivan, adds luscious piano and organ to the Bobby “Blue” Bland soul blues classic ‘Lead Me On,’ creating a vehicle for Johnny to ramp up the drama with his enduring vocal and sweet lead guitar. Johnny and the boys then get funky on the ode to shapely curves and Johnny’s other obsession and day job at JT Auto Service, ‘Body And Fender Man,’ originally written by Doc Pomus and Duke Robillard for Baton Rouge soul singer Johnny Adams. They smooth out the groove, while staying true to the guitar riff created by Chet Atkins, on 1957 Rockabilly B side hit ‘Chicken House.’ Lowell Fulson’s 1957 hit for Chess Records, ‘Rock ‘Em Dead,’ is given the Headhunter treatment, pushing the boogie woogie up a notch to a full-tilt dance-floor-filling roadhouse shuffle, and the frenzy continues for the blazing rip thru Elmore James slide guitar bombast ‘Shake Your Money Maker.’
Johnny pays tribute to one of the unsung heroes of reverb-soaked Garage Rock with a fun-loving take of Link Wray surf guitar instrumental ‘Ace Of Spades’ tossing in a little bit of Switchblade for good measure. Power house vocalist Liz Springer from acclaimed D.C. band Built 4 Comfort, is the special guest for the sassy duet ‘Watch And Chain,’ trading barbs with Johnny like June Carter on the late 60’s Bo Diddley beat romp from the Donovan catalog. A second Magic Sam cover, the classic Chicago Blues shuffle from 1958 ‘All My Whole Life,’ showcases Johnny’s guitar skills and the crack Headhunter rhythm section. Everyone shines on ‘Collins Mambo,’ closing the album with another high energy instrumental that has Johnny blending elements from several of Texas bluesman Albert Collins’ legendary ice-pick riffs into a dance hall fiesta.
Rick J Bowen
At the tender age of six, Johnny began learning to play the guitar. This early training paid off; he was soon the top pick for young, budding bands in the D.C. area. The hot shot quickly picked up all the era’s popular songs such as The Animals, Beatles, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin.
Johnny attended University of Miami where he earned a degree in Psychology, but the real focus of his education was on the blues. He soon met Bruce Ewan, harmonica player and brother of blues man, Bobby Radcliff. Bruce and Johnny became record connoisseurs hunting record conventions for blues records and listened to many of the records Bruce had mysteriously confiscated from his brother. Some of these were the recordings of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Otis Rush, Little Milton, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Guitar Slim, T-Bone Walker, The Meters, and of course, the legendary records of Magic Sam. Johnny started playing nothing but the blues.
Over the course of his travels, Johnny became friends with a fine harmonica player named Larry Wise. Larry was known for touring with famous blues men and introduced Johnny to Louisiana Red. The three became known as “Nobody’s Children” and began a whirlwind tour of the US and Canada. With hit records such as Red’s Dream and Sweet Bloodcall, Louisiana Red enabled Johnny to play with many other blues masters. Nobody’s Children toured, played festivals and shared the stage with greats such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton, Memphis Slim, Nina Simone, Taj Mahal, Duke Robillard, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Albert Collins, Albert King, Big Moose Walker (Earl Hooker’s piano player), Muddy Waters, Big Walter, Pinetop Perkins, Luther Allison and many more.
Johnny stayed for some time with Sunnyland Slim, Legendary Chicago piano player and a member of Muddy Waters Band. He became friendly with Lurrie Bell, and together, would go to sit in clubs on the North side of Chicago. One night they went to see Big Walter Horton play with Eddie Taylor. Outside the club they met Steve Guyger and Eddie, taking a band break. Steve was an up and coming harmonica player from the Philadelphia area. The boys got to play with the band, featuring Eddie Taylor, Big Walter, Odie Payne, Louis Meyers, and Pinetop.
Upon coming home in 1982, Johnny was asked to replace the guitarist in the band that Steve Guyger had started in Philadelphia called The Excellos. Johnny had already been a guitar player for the legendary band Rockett 88 from Wilmington, Delaware. The Excellos played places in Philadelphia such as J.C. Dobbs with bands like The Stray Cats opening for them. It was with the culmination of all these experiences and the knowledge he learned, Johnny moved back to Washington D.C. to form Johnny and the Headhunters, which is now a trio with guitar, bass and drums. The Headhunters have performed for over three decades in and around the Nation’s Capital, along the whole East Coast as well as popular in the Manhattan club scene especially at “Manny’s Car Wash,” a favorite Upper East Side blues hot spot. The band has played shows with Pete Ragusa, drummer and Grammy-nominated producer for the internationally acclaimed Nighthawks.