Influential bassist Alphonson Johnson spent a few minutes talking with me online.
TEJ: What was it like playing with Weather Report?
A J: At the time that I was with the band it was full of the ups and downs of life. There were moments of elation and joy and there were also moments of sorrow and pain. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world and I have no regrets with having the pleasure of sharing that piece of history with some of the best friends I’ve ever met.
TEJ: How did your professional friendship with Chester Thompson start?
A J: I actually met Chester in Baltimore where he and I were playing with some female R & B bands. We have stayed friends ever since then.
TEJ: When did you find out that Chester had been given the drummer’s position in Genesis?
A J: I don’t remember the exact year but I do remember that it was around the time that Phil recorded Face Value; Phil had mentioned to me that he was a great fan of Chester’s playing with Frank Zappa and wanted to contact him, but maybe Chester was already in the band, because that is when I met Phil at his hotel.
TEJ: How did you feel about that?
A J: I was so happy that finally someone who could play his ass off was going to be playing with Genesis. They were one of my favourite bands but I always felt that it was typically British in its execution of the music.
TEJ: How did you come to audition for Genesis when Steve Hackett left?
A J: I think Chester or Phil recommended me because they knew that I played Chapman Stick and thought I could play Stick instead of guitar.
TEJ: Do you have any memories of the audition with Mike…?
A J: Yes, it was a disaster…I knew all of their songs but had never spent the time to learn them on my instrument! I had never been so frustrated in all my life, but Mike was great; a real gentleman and was very patient with me during the audition.
TEJ: Do you remember what the songs were that you played at the audition? According to Daryl they were Down & Out and Squonk…?
A J: No, I don’t remember exactly which songs were apart of the audition now, it was too long ago.
TEJ: Had you seen Genesis prior to the And Then There Were Three tour…?
A J: I saw The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour with the band in Philadelphia and I distinctly remember saying to myself as I was walking away from that show… “Wow… that was the best live show that I have seen… It combined the best of music; visuals and professionalism…” The conversation with Phil after our encounter on the elevator was mostly about how we admired each other musically and wanted to advance the art of music forward.
TEJ: Why did you recommend Daryl?
A J: Because I knew that he played excellent guitar; a little bass when he and I met at a Jean Luc Ponty concert. Plus, he and I were already good friends.
TEJ: How did you become apart of the Face Value sessions?
A J: I bumped into Phil on an elevator at the Chateau Monmartre Apartments in Hollywood while I was visiting Chester. It was a funny scene because we initially tried not to acknowledge that we were fans of each other. Finally just as the door was about to close we both said “Hey, aren’t you…” After the meeting he invited me to the show and asked me to play on his record.
TEJ: What did you think of the songs on Face Value when you first heard the demos?
A J: They were surprising to me because it was obvious that this was not going to be a Fusion recording. But I tried to put my heart and soul into it as if it was any recording session I would normally do. I really tried to please both Phil and the engineer while I was there.
TEJ: Was it difficult working with a drum machine on things like This Must Be Love?
A J: Not really, because it was programmed by a drummer and that makes a great difference to a bassist.
TEJ: What were your favourite songs from Face Value?
A J: In The Air Tonight is my favourite.
TEJ: Which song did you enjoy contributing the most to?
A J: I don’t really remember any songs that were more favourable to me than others.
TEJ: What did you think of the finished versions when you first heard them?
A J: I knew that Phil had a hit on his hands if Atlantic Records were going to give it the right amount of marketing and distribution.
TEJ: How did you get to work with Santana?
A J: I met Carlos through my friend Ndugu, who invited me to a concert they played in Philadelphia.
TEJ: How did it feel to be working alongside Chester Thompson again during your time with Santana?
A J: That was the best band when Chester was playing with them. It felt great to be playing with one of my favourite drummers again.
TEJ: How did you come to work with Steve Hackett on the Genesis Revisited album?
A J: Chester was the person who suggested to Steve that I could do it and Steve invited me to join him in Nashville.
TEJ: Did you enjoy working with Chester Arial’> on that project?
A J: Yes!!
TEJ: What are you working on at the moment?
A J: Right now I am musical director for a new artist named Rhian Benson. She is a cross between R & B and Hip Hop, and is originally from Ghana but she grew up in London.
TEJ: Do you still do session work?
A J: But of course!!!
TEJ: Is there anybody you would really like to work with given the chance?
A J: I met Brian May at a trade show in Germany and thought: “Now there is someone that I would love to write some music with and see what happens…”
Many thanks to Alphonso for sparing the time for the interview during his busy schedule.