I’d never heard of Ross Johnson before 2008, though I’d probably heard him—the Memphis journeyman has appeared as a sideman (drummer, mostly) on records by cult heroes like Alex Chilton and Panther Burns and Jon Spencer, which is to say, the kind of records you probably couldn’t help but be exposed if you’ve spent much time in mid-American college-town dive bars over the past 30 years. Make It Stop! The Most of Ross Johnson collects tracks spanning that time, which may make it, technically, a “reissue,” but it doesn’t feel like one, and not only because huge chunks of the hodgepodge had been previously released only as 45s or compilation cuts, if at all.
“Theme From ‘A Summer Place’”
Mainly, the collection feels of a piece: two-dozen tracks full of hilarious shaggy dog rants (about, say, growing up fat and sissified and horny in the South, or being a drunk dad who cheats on girlfriends with his ex-wife) that emerge naturally out of a species of toga party that most biologists had long assumed was extinct by 1966, often just wildly inebriated versions of time-tested oldies (“Keep on Dancing,” “Farmer John,” “Mr. Blue,” “Pretty Flamingo,” “When the Saints Go Marching In” turning into “Dixie”) done in a way that neither subverts their tunefulness nor freeze-dries them into nostalgia. It’s like you’re there taking the mystery train to the sock-hop yourself, and the sock-hop is also a vaudeville routine. Ross himself has reportedly said he’s embarrassed to listen to the thing. I say no funnier music came out this year. If you wanted to explain rock n’ roll to a Martian, you could do far worse.