Long ago in a land far away, also known as the San Fernando Valley mid 90s, Mike Stinson and Johnny Irion lived and wrote songs in an old farmhouse behind a rehearsal studio called The Alley. Already accomplished musicians working as sidemen in other bands, together they studied the elements of songwriting by dissecting the greats and honed these chops into a uniquely cool hybrid country fried rock sound of their own.
Primitive perhaps, but there was something undeniably pleasing about their vocal blend. Augmenting their lineup for club gigs was Mike’s running buddy and day job partner Andy Jones whose prog rock band Bigelf is the stuff of LA legend. A bona fide songwriter of the highest caliber and inspired by the sound Mike and Johnny were creating, Andy penned a handful of songs that nailed the vibe and fit wonderfully in the band’s repertoire.
A marriage, a million miles, and the sudden tragic death of Andy Jones all conspired to sideline the band, but Mike and Johnny kept in touch and now, twenty-five years later, have finally made the record they always wanted to make. Working My Way Down features eleven songs from Johnny, Mike and Andy recorded in Johnny’s home studio located in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. The studio features a vintage and historical Studer analog twenty-four-track, two-inch tape machine Johnny acquired from Jackson Browne. This machine spent the previous thirty years in Jackson’s home studio recording many notable albums. The musical chemistry Mike and Johnny stumbled on years ago has only ripened with age and experience. The vocal blend still has the undeniable power, and the combination of Mike’s drumming and Johnny’s guitar playing reveals why they gravitated toward each other in the first place.
Enter Blackwing Music, an extension of the famous pencil brand whose cult following included Steinbeck, Lennon, and others. The brand became defunct in the mid 90s around the time Johnny and Mike were first working together. It has since been revived by a company of musicians and music fans who have gone on to start a record label to support independent artists. With a vintage aesthetic that dovetails with the music Mike and Johnny are making, Blackwing Music will release Working My Way Down in March of 2023. Live performances will start in February with a month-long residency of Saturday nights at the Continental Club in Austin Texas, the granddaddy of roots rock venues in America.
Mike Stinson can write songs in his sleep....no really, check out Walking Home In The Rain from his fourth album Hell And Half Of Georgia. "Well that only happened once but yeah it's true. I woke up with that song fully formed playing in my head. No idea where it came from." General consensus is that Mike's blue collar songwriting ethic earned him that freebie. That kind of 'luck' comes from putting in the time. Here's a glimpse at what that time has looked like. Raised in Virginia, schooled in DC, Mike moved to Los Angeles where eighteen years made him a veteran of what he calls "the trenches of beer joint warfare." The years following found him based in Houston and barnstorming the roadhouses of Texas week in and week out.
Along the way he has written his very own version of the American songbook and developed an expansive live show that "has taken country and rock and boiled them down to their essence before injecting everything with the kind of ju-ju that Gram Parsons died for." (Bill Bentley, The Morton Report) Critical acclaim has followed. Los Angeles Magazine named him Best Country Artist (2004), The Houston Press awarded him Song Of The Year (2010), Texas Music Magazine named him one of their Artists of The Year (2012) and one of their Records of The Year (2013), and Houston Press named him Best Country Artist two years running (2014, 2015). But perhaps the more significant mark of Mike's creative success is the respect and admiration he's earned from a large songwriting community. His songs have been released on albums by Dwight Yoakam, Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Gilkyson, Jesse Dayton, Brian Whelan, Folk Uke (featuring Willie Nelson), Austin Hanks and Larry Bagby.
Few, if any walk, away from a Mike Stinson show unaffected by his particular slant. His songs are the thrills, chills and spills of life, filled with razor sharp word play, charm, depth, poignance and musical muscle. “Mike Stinson is dangerous, the kind of songwriter who can upend the way you see the world with a single line, and whose lean, mean rock and roll machine of a band usually starts at a Chuck Berry gallop and goes from there. They can crank it so hard, in fact, it’s entirely possible to miss all the diamond-tipped rejoinders, double entendres, aphorisms and the occasional outright burn that litter Stinson’s songs, and make him one of the wickedest lyricists around today.” Houston Press