Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson coming to Bluesfest

IT WAS just another ‘overhead’ day at the deadly Hawaiian surfing break, Pipeline, when the bottom fell out of a wave, crashing a 17-year-old local surfer onto the cavernous reef below.

Pipeline, located on the North Shore of Oahu, has claimed numerous lives over the decades, though it spared a young Jack Johnson – destroying a career as a surfer but opening a door to Johnson becoming one of the world’s most popular singer-songwriters.

The accident kept him out of the water for three months with 150 stitches in his head and several teeth missing, leaving Johnson with little else to do but play the guitar, his ‘second’ hobby after surfing.

What seemed to a youthful Johnson to be an insignificant incident set in motion a series of events that catapulted him into setting the world alight with his unique brand of surf pop/rock. His new found fame would also serve as a vehicle to champion his passion for the environment, evidenced in the soon to be released album, To The Sea, due out in June.

Anyone heading to Bluesfest next month will get a sneak preview of To The Sea, with Johnson and his band headlining the festival.

“We love playing Bluesfest for a couple of reasons,” Johnson says. “It was the first show we ever did in Australia. Everybody turned out, it was such a crazy reaction it was a huge boost to our band that had been opening for other bands all year and was pretty used to playing to half-full rooms. The album won’t be out until June, so we are coming down more to play a bunch of our older songs... (though) we will definitely be playing some of the new ones...”

To The Sea is testament to Johnson’s dedication to saving the planet. Some of the initiatives are revolutionary – the album was recorded at his home studio – located in his garage in Hawaii, using 100 per cent solar power with all the album packaging made of FSC certified recycled paper.

Johnson has been a member of 1% For The Planet since 2004, a growing global movement of more than 700 companies that donate one per cent of their sales to a network of more than 15000 environmental organisations worldwide. Building on his philanthropic efforts, his 2010 world tour will collaborate with local non-profit groups around the world, with Johnson donating 100 per cent of his tour profits to support environmental, art and music education.

So why does he give so much away?

“I feel like just because I’m a human being and living on earth,” Johnson reflects. “Mainly I like to work with kids and try to raise their awareness but not about the heavier issues. There are all these big heavy things you can talk about like global warming but really, if you talk to kids about nutrition and supporting local farmers ... I feel like that has a bigger impact than talking about the scarier big issues.”

His passion for the planet might have something to do with growing up in a Hawaiian paradise.

“I think it was really just having these really significant moments growing up out in nature,” Johnson says when asked what sparked his concern for the environment. “Whether it was out in the ocean or up in the mountains hiking, and then at some point – realising that I had a chance to do something to help to keep the world beautiful or keep those places clean and beautiful as much as possible.”

Johnson grew up in a sleepy Hawaiian village where surfing ruled the daylight hours and music ruled the night. He learnt to play the ukulele at school and first picked up a guitar when he was 14. But surfing was his first love.

“Music was always number two in my life as far as hobbies go,” Johnson says. “The piano player in my band met James Brown once, and he asked him for any advice, and James Brown advice was to always make music number two. I don’t know if he meant it in the same way but music is just a way to express life’s experiences for me. It’s a way to try to put thoughts down in a poetic way. I always thought of surfing as the daytime and music as the night time.”

When asked if his surfing accident thwarted his true destiny to be a surfing champion Johnson is reticent.

“It gets a little bit exaggerated now because of my new circumstances. I would surf in the trial events when they would come through town. I did make the trials of the Pipe Masters. I didn’t make it into the main event. That was kind of my claim to fame, almost making the main event one year.”

What Johnson is serious about is his family and spending time with friends in Australia, especially around Byron Bay.

“I love the surf over there, and just hanging out with friends,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of friends from even before we had been to Australia from all the people who travelled to Hawaii to surf. One of my good friends I grew up with ended up marrying an Australian surfer and so she moved down there. We keep in touch with them. We come down for vacations. We love spending time down there. Even if this was an interview for a French paper I would still say Australia is our favourite place to play.”

Catch Jack Johnson at Bluesfest, which will run from April 1 to 5. Tickets on sale now on 6685 8310 or visit www.bluesfest.com.au.


“ Even if this was an interview for a French paper I would still say Australia is our favourite place to play ”

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