L.A. Times Music Blog
July 2, 2008 2:16pm
Although he hasn't released a record since 1998's "Bitchin,' " Johnny Legend — known to admirers as the Rockabilly Rasputin – is still in the game. Last Friday he kicked out the jams at Spike's Bar in Rosemead, playing to a largely uninterested room of traditional rockabilly types. Anything but traditional, Legend strolled on stage in droopy red pants, a red-sequined cardigan sweater and a black T-shirt emblazoned with the movie poster of Ray Dennis Steckler's cult 1964 rock opera, "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies." With his long, flowing white beard and hair, he looked like a slightly anemic Santa Claus with nicotine-stained teeth and impenetrable sunglasses.
Stage-shy in the beginning, he turned his back on the audience and sang to the band. But he soon kicked his shoes off and stalked the dance floor in his socks, working his way through a number of classics with vigor and enthusiasm. Unlike the preceding band – whose sound was straight out of the Stray Cats playbook and whose powdered frontman looked like Robert Smith with a pompadour – Legend possessed a raw, feral stage presence that elicited toe-tapping and more than a few grins from the few Spike's patrons who focused on the performance. He was a particular hit with some of the rockabilly ladies in attendance, frolicking, flirting and even spinning on the floor to get their attention.
The notoriously reclusive and eccentric weird-beard got his start on the Sunset Strip club circuit with a folk-rock act called the Seeds of Time (they changed their moniker to Shadow Legend after complaints from Sky Saxon's far-more-popular Seeds). Equally involved in low-budget cinema, the San Fernando Valley native spent the '70s working for Roger Corman's American International Pictures, composing soundtracks for grade-Z adult films such as "Tower of Love" and building his rockabilly chops – and future reputation – by playing alongside L.A. rockabilly revival heavy hitters such as Ray Campi and Billy Zoom. He has only a handful of records to his credit – including an appearance on the 1977 "Teenage Cruisers" soundtrack and 1981's "Rockabilly Rumble" — but if this show is any evidence, Johnny Legend still has what it takes to bop.
Photo and post by Jason Gelt