Like many, I first heard about Johnny Dilks when I bought “Acres Of Heartaches” (Hightone Records, HMG 3008) in 1999. I’d never heard about him before, but the pic on the cover looked really good so I thought “let’s try this one.”
Once again, I made a lucky choice, and even if Johnny himself is not quite happy with this album (see the interview), it was loaded with pure country music as it should be done, with attitude, western swing influences, good lyrics and cherrypie great yodel. A few years later I found out that Johnny had a website ( and heard the new version of the Visitacion Valley Boys, including Lee Jeffries, known for his work with Big Sandy. The sound was different, an electric bass replaced the string bass and there was no fiddle, but from the soundclips I heard on the site (go and check’em out) I felt like Johnny really found the style that really suited him, a 60’s country sound with some Buck Owens and Dave Dudley in it. An album has been recorded but hasn’t been released yet, hope we won’t have to wait too long but in the meantime what about spending a few minutes with a real honky tonk man and read the interview?

by Fred "Virgil" Turgis

What age did you start singing?

I played in a punk band when I was thirteen years old but that doesnt count for was more like hollerin!! I really started singing when I was around 19 years old. I played guitar in a rockabilly band with Lloyd Tripp and Johnny Baker called the Zipguns and those guys had me singing a couple of songs... I really didn’t like singing at first and wasn’t very good at confidence level was pretty low back then.
I really just wanted to play guitar in a western swing band and just assumed that there were guys playing western swing around..but I was wrong.... So I decided to start a western swing band and hired my guitar teacher Jim Campilongo to play guitar, and a bunch of other local hotshots. I played rhythm and sang. I was shaky at best but went for it!! Jim has since become somewhat famous in his own right... he went on to form the Ten Gallon Cats and has since been living in New York making Jazz records.
I struggled with singing at first and I mentioned Rudy Challard to you… well that guy told me I had a great hillbilly voice and kinda worked with me and inspired me to become a singer. I can remember being drunk off my ass at two or three in the morning freezing my ass off stuck at a bus stop with Rudy in Daily city, he was trying to show me how to sing the Long Gone Lonesome blues. I didn’t understand how he could hit the high notes like Hank Williams...he told me to practice my ass off… and I did... as a matter of fact I’m still practicing and still dont think I’m a very good singer..

What originally made you want to play music?
I really dont know… I have always had music really deep in my soul and guess that I just wound up knowing that I would be a musician at an early age. I have always tried to write songs since about as long as I can remember hearing music... I really couldn’t tell ya honestly.

You told me Rudy Chalard is the reason why I became a singer, can you tell more about that ?
Rudy is just a great all around guy. The first time I met him we just seemed to hit it off. We were just kids really. I saw him play at a bar in San Fransisco called the Conneticut Yankee. I was under age to drink legally and I remember sneaking a pint of bourbon in my boot into the club so I could drink...
I really dont remember much after that but we just became good friends... we were on the same level. Neither of us had any money or were hipsters we were both just kinda really into music and didnt have all that much... We both drank too much whiskey and were into being out in the country so we hung out alot. He always told me to keep on singing and if it hadn’t a been for him pushing me I probably wouln’t of kept singing. I probably just be a woodworker.

When and how did you first get interested in country music ?
When I was a kid I worked in a sign shop for a guy who was from Mississippi and Kansas his name was Mike Kane. God rest his soul he passed away about a year ago. He got me into the two things in life that made me who I am... working wood and country music. He had a shitty old turntable from the sixties or seventies the type where you can stack up like ten or twelve lp’s on the top and it drops em down one at a time. Well all day long I had country music and some old blues and stuff like that pumped into my ears... whether I liked it or not. Mostly stuff from the fifties. Somehow I could relate to it better than the garbage they were playing on the radio. Remember that alot of the bands that were on the radio and MTV at the time were comprised of men with long hair who wore make up...
I just didnt get it... I was a dirty kid who wore overalls and got my ass kicked if I didn’t do all of my chores. If I ever even thought of grown my hair long and wearing makeup my dad would of put a bullet in my head. Somehow old country music made sense to me. I guess I liked punk at the time because it was what I call «do it yourself music» you had a bunch of young guys who couldnt play
for shit but they did it anyways and the energy that went along with it was always alot of always had heart and soul...and whenever I was sad I could always listen to an old country record and hear about someone else who had things alot worse and I guess I always felt better for it.

Who are your musical influences?
Hank Williams, Buck Owens, George Jones, Joe Carson, Red Simpson, Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart, Josh White, Tommy Collins, BIlly Mize,Charlie Rich,
Otis Redding... I could go on and on theres not enough room in this interview?!!

How did you learn how to yodel ?
I sat infront of a piano for two years practicing my ass off. I took vocal lessons from a gospel and soul singer named Katie Guthorn who really helped me figure out how to breathe and use my lungs to sing.

I’ve seen somewhere on the internet that you werent quite happy with your previous record. Is that true, and if so, why?
I cant stand to hear «Acres of Heartache» We made the whole thing in ten days
and recorded it live. I’m singing flat on most of it and sound totally nasaly.I could have done it alot better if I had a good producer who would have stopped us and made us really fine tune things. Plus I really dont like to hear myself sing
in the first’s like hearing your voice on an answering machine...know what I mean?

Your sound evolved from a western swing type of band to a more honky tonk/Bakersfield sound, what can you say about this evolution?
Just growing up I guess. When I was a kid I really only listened to stuff from the 20’s to the 50’s. I always thought of country from the 60’s and 70’s as being too pop influenced...I didnt really give it a chance till I was twenty four or twenty five. I remember Rudy telling me to listen to Buck Owens and I just sorta shrugged at the time... I dont know what I was fucking thinkin now. I think that vocally the stuff from the sixties is much more complex and harder to sing. The songs are much deeper and sofisticated than earlier stuff. I think alot of it just comes from me wanting to improve myself as a singer and songwriter... and if I’m not learning new things then I’m just wasting my time.

Is this the reason you’re looking for a new name for your band
No the reason I am looking for a new band name is that the Visitacion Valley Boys have kinda just played out..We went through three line-ups over the last seven years and I just think it’s fair to let people know that this is a completely new band... even though our drummer is still with us he is the last remaining Visitacion Valley Boy.

The line up of your band recently changed, could you introduce the new boys
The new band consists of Dave Gleason on B-bender telecaster guitar, Dave Zirbel on pedal steel, Steve Walz on electric bass and Leor Beary on drums. I think that this is by far the best band I have had yet?!! We all get along really well and there is very little ego or attitude issues... we all just love playing country music.

I saw some pics with your stage suits. Are they original Nudies?
No Jaime The Western Tailor made my suits he worked for Nudie for many years. Not too many people know about him but he’s down in a small shop in North Hollywood...his work is amazing he still does everything by hand.

Is there any type of venues that you particularly enjoy playing?
I would rather play to a bunch of crazy bikers and farmers in a shitty honky tonk out in the sticks, than to a bunch of hipsters that are trying to look good and get laid anyday...but honestly I just am happy that I get to play and have people listen at all to tell ya the truth... beggars cant be choosers!! Remember that Fred. I just feel lucky people will still pay to hear music that sounds like it did forty years ago.

You started with punk, would you say there are similarities between punk and honky tonk music, No-show-Jones was kind of a punk attitude for example?
I would say that there are similarities between the two. Country musicians are or were notorious hell are punks. I’d say the difference is that one group can play thier instruments the other group can kinda play their instruments....but both stirr up emotion.

What is, for you, the best cry in your beer song?
Hell I don’t know I never cry in my beer. I usually just get drunk and try to drink myself to death when I’m sad...but the one that got me last night was «One Slightly Used Engagement Ring» on the Captiol Jeannie C. Riley record from 68.

Lets talk about this new album, “Full time loser”…
Full Time Loser just got finished and is off being Mastered in Nashville as we speak. It was the last thing we did as the Visitacion Valley Boys and I am happy with the end result. We recorded it down in San Diego and had Marc Neill produce it. Marc really pushed me to become a better singer and without him it wouldn’t sound half as good as it does. We stated recording it three years ago and because of cost and scheduling it took way longer that I would have liked but the end result was definetly worth it

Besides the Rudy Chalard cover, are there all original songs?
All of the tracks are originals with the exception of Rudy’s song and one other cover. We also had the Calvanes do backing vocals on it and they sound unbelieveable!

When will it be released?
I don’t have a release date yet because I dont have a record label yet. I am currently shopping it around and it basically is going to come down to who will offer the most money. I personally spent just over thirty thousand dollars making this record and am looking for a company who can at least cover the recording costs....but I’ll keep you posted!!

Some singers, like Dale Watson or Wayne Hancock, almost consider themselves on war against Nashville and what happened to real country music. Do you feel the same or you just dont care?
I’m not at war with anyone... life is too short. There is always going to be things in this world that not everyone likes especially within the music industry. The sad reality is is that most of the people in this world are like sheep they follow what ever is put in front of them. I think that declaring war on Nashville will only hurt things instead of help them. Look at BR-549 or the Derailers those bands both had major label was short lived but I think Nashville will slowly have to open it’s eyes again... at least I hope so.

What is the future for Johnny Dilks?
Future?? There is no future man!! I’m just kidding... Who knows?? How about getting me some gigs in France and Europe I love to come over and play on your side of the lake. I would be good to see my ol pal Rudy Chalard again...You should hit him up for an interview he’s an interesting dude and a really great songwriter and musician!!

A last word?
Well Fred my last words are just thank you so much for hunting me down and asking me to do this interview. I have kinda been off the national circuit since Acres Of Heartache came out and I always am amazed when guys like you ask me questions from all the way on the other side of the world...So thanks again!