Mike Stinson & Johnny Irion: Singing the Songs of Andy Jones 25 Years Later
The American country rock duo pay homage to a fallen friend
Mike Stinson is a country artist based in Houston, with four albums to his credit. Johnny Irion is best known for his work with Sarah Lee Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie’s daughter, who made five albums together before they dissolved their musical partnership.
Long before Stinson and Irion were making a living as musicians, they shared a drafty old farmhouse in the San Fernando Valley.
“We moved in during the winter and only had a couple of space heaters to keep us warm,” Stinson recalled. “We started a folky country band called The Space Heaters and wrote a bunch of songs. We lasted a couple of years and played a lot of gigs around Hollywood. Our friend Andy Jones, who was in a band called Bigelf, sat in and wrote a bunch of great songs for us. When Johnny started getting close with Sarah, he moved back East. I stayed in L.A. for nine more years and made two albums [Jack of All Heartache, Last Fool at the Bar] before moving to Houston. Andy played with me, when he could. He died suddenly in 2010.”
“I left Houston during COVID,” Stinson said. “All my work dried up, so I wandered back to the East Coast to visit family and crash with friends. Johnny invited me to come up to his place in Massachusetts. We cut two singles in his home studio, ‘Close Enough for Government Work’ and ‘Rattling the Cage,’ and put ‘em out digitally. That went so well, we decided to make the record we should have made 25 years ago. We cut the songs Andy wrote for us back then, along with some new ones of our own. We aimed for a crunchy roots rock feel, with a big electric sound and a lot of country in the arrangements.”
The resulting album, Working My Way Down, features five songs by Jones, three by Stinson, two by Irion and one cover, “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis.” Stinson said they made “Working My Way Down” the title track because it encapsulated the albums over all feel of “hard drinking, hard loving, hard losing” country songs.
“The album is also a homage to David Briggs,” Stinson said. “He produced a bunch of classic Neal Young recordings with Crazy Horse, including Zuma and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.”
Stinson said the vibe of Young’s Crazy Horse band inspired Irion’s production of the album. And Working My Way Down does indeed capture that classic early 70s country/rock feel, with an emphasis on the rock side of the equation. Irion’s distorted electric guitar rhythms and Stinson’s dynamic backbeat drive the album opener, “The Bottle And Me.” It’s a drinking song by Jones, with a dark lyric. Stinson said he played drums before he picked up the guitar and playing them on this album felt natural.
“We tracked all the songs live, with bass player Rob Douglas, after we were all vaccinated,” Stinson explains. “There were no arrangements; we just set up in the studio and let ‘er rip.”
VIDEO: Mike Stinson & Johnny Irion “The Bottle And Me”
Stinson and Irion sing the lead vocal in close harmony on the title track, with Irion’s wha-wha guitar adding to the lyric’s self-destructive vibe. Irion’s “Ponderosa Pine” is a love song, with a tender lyric that’s lifted up by the duo’s close harmonies and Irion’s inventive guitar work. Stinson’s “Last Chance to Hide From Love” has a mellow swamp pop vibe augmented by Irion’s guitar mimicking the long, weepy notes of a steel guitar. Irion shows off his impressive guitar licks on “You Came A Long Way From St. Louis,” a standard that’s been covered by everyone from Della Reese to Merv Griffin. It’s an energetic shot of pure rock’n’roll energy.
“I call the album a blend of early rock, blues and traditional country – American roots music,” Stinson said. “What you hear is what we did. After the session, a few instruments were added, as were my lead vocals. I usually do my records with live vocals, but I was drumming and the drums bled into the vocal mic, so it wasn’t practical this time. We cut it on a 24-track analog tape machine Johnny got from Jackson Browne.
“When Johnny left Los Angeles and moved back East, I played in another band with Andy called High Horses. He wrote a bunch of good tunes for that project too. Since this record came off so well, we’re gonna start work on another album soon and cut a bunch of those songs. We’re also touring behind this record, playing the whole thing through, with another old friend from California, Dave Phenicie, on bass.”
Stinson & Irion tour dates are up on the band’s website.
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