Published in The Hamilton Spectator Thursday, March 21, 1995.

 

BY NICK KREWEN

According to Chicago's JONNY POLONSKY, rock stardom sure beats jumping out of airplanes and cleaning up after alligators.

For what Polonsky admits were "four pretty wacky years," that's exactly what the author of the new album Hi My Name Is Johnny  did before throwing himself into the music business.

``I joined the army to put myself through school,'' admits the 26-year-old Polonsky from a hotel in Milford, Connecticut. "I was a paratrooper."

This may not seem too unusual, until Polonsky admits he had a fear of heights.

"I figured, hey, if I'm going to go all out, I may as well do it right and conquer my fear, which I did," he says. "It turned out okay. I never broke any bones."

The job at a gator farm followed his stint in the army.

"I was traveling across the country, and I ended up in Florida in this total podunk town called Farwell, Florida, two hours outside Sarasota where my grandparents lived," says Polonsky. "I ended up working on a gator farm. It was like total slop boy, cleaning up all the gator turds and popcorn and living like a bum. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Then Reeves gave my stuff to Frank, and the whole music thing started looking a little brighter, so I thought I'd give it a go."

"Reeves" is REEVES GABRELS, the boffo guitarist best known for joining DAVID BOWIE in the late, unlamented TIN MACHINE. "Frank" is FRANK BLACK, eccentric one-time leader of THE PIXIES, who has assumed the role of mentor in Jonny Polonsky's blossoming career.

Despite what's written in his record company bio, Polonsky says he never called rock musicians out of the blue to further his own career.

"It actually started out that Frank Black called me," replies Polonsky, who began playing guitar at age 9. "I had nothing to do with it. I had known Reeves Gabrels from way back in the day when I used to go to this summer camp for wayward boys. He was a friend of the family's, and would give my stuff to Frank Black. Frank apparently flipped over it, and gave me a ring."

The two became phone pals, and then decided to hang out with each other.

"We're both weightlifting enthusiasts, and we like to spar and kickbox," says Polonsky, "We're pretty physical guys. So we bonded that way...as men."

Black secured a manager for Polonsky, then brought him out to California to record a demo. Polonsky shopped it around and to his delight American Recordings -- the new home of Frank Black, surprise, surprise -- signed him to a deal.

To help promote Polonsky's new album, Hi My Name Is Jonny, Frank Black has hired him and his backing band HONKY BALLS as the opening act for his own world tour to promote Black's latest album, The Cult Of Ray.

"He's certainly helped me out a lot," says Polonsky, who then speaks of Black with awe.

"I know he's a big fan of older music -- 50's, 60's, straight-ahead pop songs, THE KINKS, and really old `Duke of Earl' and songs like that, and I am too. I think we come from the same place. We just have different ways of writing. I think I am more straight-ahead, but that's my personality.

"He's brilliant. He's amazing. He's one of those guys who is totally original from day one. I feel like I'm getting more of a style, but I come from more of a place of listening to records, being a fan and emulating other people's music."

Polonsky says if you listen to his music -- ten bytes of two-minute rock songs that clock the album in at just over 24 minutes -- you can find inspiration from sources as diverse as PAUL WESTERBERG and NIRVANA to URIAH HEEP and MOLLY HATCHET, with JUDY GARLAND, EYDIE GORME and NINA SIMONE thrown in for good measure.

And Polonsky's army and alligator adventures could go a long way to explaining some of the more unique song titles on Hi My Name Is Jonny, which range from "Truly Ugly And Dead Too" and "Evil Scurvy Love" to the souvlaki-shunning "Uh-Oh."

"I'm just babbling," says Polonsky of "Uh-Oh," a song where a man dies after ingesting the Greek delicacy. "It's just nonsense."

What's impressive about Hi My Name Is Jonny is that it's a true solo record: Polonsky wrote, performed, recorded and produced the entire album himself. The songwriter says he wasn't interested in hiring a big-name producer.

"I could have done anything with the advance I got from American, but I wanted to record myself because this is what I do. I'm interested in recording and playing these different instruments. I think I've got a certain style that bodes well with my songs, and for right now it feels like the right thing to do."

He also feels satisfied about keeping his songs short and sweet.

"I love short songs," says Polonsky. "Especially in this day and age when everyone blathers on. I think songs are too long for the most part. I like to keep it to the point."

-30-

THANKS: STEVE WAXMAN, GRANT RORABECK, WADE HEMSWORTH, GLEN NOTT

©1995, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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