Eagle Johnson’s route to Tennessee was a long and winding one, filled with stints both in jail and in a state-run mental health facility. Dealing with a self-described “temporary break with reality” in 2010, he found himself arrested on a breaking-and-entering charge involving a Florida church. Soon finding himself in the mental health facility, he discovered that music was the perfect form of therapy for him. He was allowed to play the guitar and sing and was subsequently released with a clean bill of health, having unearthed a preternatural inclination toward songwriting.
In his compositions, he favored the rough and rural sounds of folk music and the blues, as well as a slightly clamorous rock ramble. And he spun these bucolic tales for anyone who would listen. He soon set up shop in Memphis and began playing across the city at different venues and opening for artists including fellow Memphis musician Valerie June. His work eventually attracted the attention of blues icon Zeke Johnson, who acted as his mentor and exposed Eagle to the music of artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell and Furry Lewis – two musicians who had passed their knowledge on to Zeke when he was younger.
Eagle spent time refining his mashup of folk, rock, and blues styles before relocating to Nashville. It was here that he finally developed a sound as fully formed as what had been echoing around in his head. He paired with Bomb Shelter Studios (AKA Nashville’s “Analog Wonderland”) and began the processing of recording what would be the debut album from Eagle Johnson & Clean Machine with the help of some friends. They released their debut Tennessee Beach on 2017 and proceeded to spread their music as far as they could. For his next album, The Last Gun, Eagle has crafted a collection of songs apart from Clean Machine under his own name.
The album is a refinement of the sounds he’s been working with for years. Anchored by the roughhewn rhythms of garage rock and the storytelling histories of folk, the tracks bloom and contract without regard for genre borders. And on his latest single (and title track) “The Last Gun”, he fuses together a chain of influences which results in a song that isn’t easily described. It exists in a patch of uninhabited musical space where the curious creations of just a few talented musicians tend to go when they resist casual labels and classification. The fuzzed-out guitars feel as though they are just about to collapse around the bursts of clacking percussion. It’s a brilliant wash of sounds and provides a proper introduction to the delightful weirdness of Eagle Johnson for those who might not be acquainted.
“It sounds a little crazy, but a few years ago I was sitting under an oak tree with my Grandmother in St. Augustine on a beautiful day with a perfect breeze and I sort of had a vision or something,” Johnson recalls. “I felt like I was transported to this place that was like a giant wishing well, but there was no water…it was just a hole in the earth and people were coming from all around to throw their guns into this well that seemed to have no bottom…It was completely voluntary though…it was like a pilgrimage place...”
He continues: “‘The Last Gun’ is sort of inspired by the motif or idea of there being no guns one day…it’s the first song on an album that I sort of think of as an album about social progress…only this one is abstractly about The Last Gun ever.”