Johnny Childs, blues musician, has come a long way from his old life as an ultra-Orthodox hoodlum. He started off in Brooklyn as Yonah Krohn, the unruly third child in a family of 10, who would sometimes briefly steal the fancy cars outside synagogues and take them for joy rides. He left home when he was 12 because his parents didn't want him corrupting his younger siblings, and at 14, while in a group home, his life gained focus after he discovered the dulcet strains of blues music.
"Blues gave me an outlet for my creativity, and the ability to start expressing myself through an art form, which is something I never experienced growing up," said Childs, 31, now one of Los Angeles' most promising blues acts. "It's an honest, unpretentious, minimalist way of expressing your emotions, that also relies heavily on improvisation, that enables you to express what is going on in your mind and your heart at any given moment."
Childs is self-taught. In the group home, he sat with his roommate's guitar, replaying any riffs he had heard until they satisfied him, and then he would take them one step further by adding something of his own.
"I have always tried to squeeze a new note out of the instrument every time I pick it up," he said. "When I hear somebody play a riff on guitar, or any instrument, that I want to steal -- because that is how anybody builds an arsenal of riffs -- I would learn it note for note, but I never performed it the way I stole it. I would keep the intensity but deliver something really different."
Childs keeps his music from sounding like a traditional Delta blues band by writing songs that cross over into the rock genre, and by making sure that his music is not derivative sounding. He plays in clubs all over Los Angeles, and has already recorded one album, titled "The Truth," and is waiting for a major blues label to pick him up so he can record his second.
And what does his rabbinic family think of his career choice? Said Childs, "They are just glad I am not stealing cars anymore."
Johnny Childs will be performing March 8 at 8:30 p.m. at Harvelle's, 1432 Fourth St., Santa Monica; and March 15 at 8 p.m. at BB King's Blues Club, 1000 Universal City Walk, Universal City.
For more information call Midnight Music Management, (310) 497-6627.
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