Monday, July 19, 2010

Interview, Part Two: KSDK's Art Holliday Discusses Fundraising with Conan O'Brien's Band, Other Memorable Interviews -- And When It'll Be Completed

Posted By on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 3:40 PM

Last week, we published an interview with Art Holliday, who's working on a documentary about Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson, called Johnnie Be Good. Here's part two of our chat, below.

Speaking of funding, how have you been funding the film? In the beginning, I knew that I was going to have an unbelievable amount of travel. -- little did I know it would be 27 trips out of St. Louis -- but I knew that there was going to be a lot of travel. A lot of people that I needed to talk to weren't necessarily going to come through St. Louis, so I was going to have to go to them. So you know, it was me and my credit card. When I started shooting footage and gathering material, then I went to the CALOP Committee (The Commission for Access and Local Original Programming) in University City. And thank goodness that University City is one of the chief cities in the country that sets aside money in their annual budget to support independent filmmakers.

So I got two grants from CALOP and University City, the Missouri Arts Council has given me a grant, the Regional Arts Commission has given me a grant, I've held fundraisers of every sort from total strangers hosting friends in their home to some of the venues that Johnnie played at hosting fundraisers. People have donated privately. So I've had a tremendous amount of support of all types and I'm grateful for all of it.

One of the coolest fundraisers is yet to happen. It's September 19. Three members of Conan O'Brien's band -- Jimmy Vivino, Mike Merritt and James Wormworth -- are coming to St. Louis to perform at the Sheldon. People who are fans of Conan, they might not know the musicians by name, but they're certainly aware of the band, because the band is great. And these three musicians were Johnnie's unofficial East Coast band. Whenever he went to the East Coast, to New York or anywhere, these were the guys that he played with. And he toured internationally with them, including the Montreux Jazz Festival. Johnnie did an instructional DVD, and these were the musicians that performed on that.

They adored Johnnie, and they're showing their respect and admiration for Johnnie by supporting this project about his life and music. And I'm really grateful to those guys, so I hope people will come out and see [them]. They're not household names, unless you're really, really a hardcore fan. But trust me when I say [that] these are some of the best musicians in the world. And if you take the time to Google any one of them and take the time to see who they've played with, the list is unbelievable.

The really cool thing about the September 19 event is that the opening act is a young woman named Dona Oxford. Shes going to be performing with the Johnnie Johnson band. So every single musician that night has a direct link with Johnnie Johnson. So I'm going to talk to them during the concert and have them tell their favorite Johnnie Johnson stories and just give people some insight; what was it like to share the stage with Johnnie. In Dona Oxford's case, she was literally a student of Johnnie Johnson, and she was his musical daughter. That's the only reason I know her, is because of doing this project.

I landed on her website by accident. I interviewed her, she's in the film. And we've actually become great friends over the years because of our mutual interest -- and then friendship -- with Johnnie Johnson.

How did you get into contact with the other musicians? The Conan O'Brien musicians?

Yes. Initially, the first musician I interviewed was Jimmy Vivino, and I interviewed him probably five years ago in New York. I kinda stayed in touch with Jimmy, and he indicated to me that Mike Merritt and James Wormworth would like to be interviewed, too. I interviewed them [together] earlier this year in Los Angeles. And they said, "We wanna do a group interview together where we just talk about Johnnie. So we're going on tour with Conan all over the country this summer. Maybe you could meet us in Chicago or Kansas City."

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