Johnny Wheels & The Swamp Donkeys
"Live at Pyrate Llama"
reviewed by Kandy Miller - 6/22/20

[Johnny Wheels & Swamp Donkey's IBC Pic]

In January, 2020, I had the opportunity to attend the International Blues Challenge (IBC) held in Memphis, Tennessee. If you love Blues Music, which I do, it is a great event to attend! I plan to go again in 2021, if Covid-19 does not prevent it from happening! There were more than 200 great bands and musicians, mostly from the USA and some from other countries, too. There were lots of blues fans cheering for their favorites, too!

One of the contenders, Johnny Wheels and the Swamp Donkeys, really impressed me. They had won the Oregon 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival to compete at IBC, but did not win the IBC. I think they definitely have a good bluesy sound. So, I bought their CD, which is called “Live at Pyrate Llama”. The Pyrate Llama is “a recording studio built inside of a funky old barn on a ranch in wine country just west of McMinnville, Oregon”. (Road Trip, Anyone?)

The CD features 8 songs, none of which are original songs. They are all covers of familiar favorites. I was thrilled that the CD ended with one of my all-time favorites, “Feels Like Rain” that I originally thought was written by Buddy Guy. (ha!)

1. The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”/Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man”
2. Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”
3. Buddy Guy’s “What Kind of Woman Is This”
4. Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison”
5. Rolling Stones’ “Miss You”/Stevie Wonder’s Superstition”
6. John Haitt’s “Feels Like Rain”

The group is made up of 5 members, Taylor Frazier (bass), Brandon Logan and Michael Rabe (guitar) Doug Knoyle (drums) and Johnny Wheels (vocal and harmonica). A paralyzing dive into a creek bed left Johnny Wheels a quadriplegic at the age of 12. But Johnny Endicott, better known as Johnny Wheels, did not let that stop him from pursuing his passion. His musical roots had already run deep. Johnny’s father, a blues bass player, who died when Johnny was 6 years old used to take his son to his band’s rehearsals. After the diving accident, Johnny had a broken neck and little use of his arms and no use of his legs. He did months of rehabilitation in California and Portland Oregon. Then, finally he got his first wheelchair.

He said, “Since I was put in a wheelchair, the only thing I wanted to do was get in and move! That was the first thing I could think about when I got hurt. Put me in a wheelchair so I can start living life.” Johnny’s friends good-naturedly nicknamed him, “Johnny Wheels” because of his chair. The name stuck and “Johnny Wheels & the Swamp Donkeys” was born. “The whole wheelchair thing, it bugs me,” said Johnny. “Don’t get me wrong, but when I play music, it’s not there. I’m on a level playing field with everybody else,” he said “just doing what makes me feel really, really good.” Johnny’s disability does not define him, “I don’t think about that kind of stuff. I just want to play music,” he said. “That’s what I do.” (Check them out on uTube or Google.)

[Johnny Wheels and band - relaxed]