Johnny & The Headhunters
There is a saying made famous by Ringo Starr in the song It Don’t Come Easy that states, "You have to pay the dues if you want to play the Blues.” If that is true, DC native Johnny Ticktin has been paying for 25 years. Johnny was fortunate to pay many of these dues backing up or sharing the stage with scores of Blues legends that influenced him. Some of these include Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Bobby Bland, Memphis Slim, Louisiana Red, Carey Bell, Jimmy Rogers, Big Walter, Pinetop Perkins, Eddie Taylor and many others.
At the tender age of six, Johnny began learning to play the guitar. This early training paid off; he was soon the top pick for young, budding bands in the area. The hot shot quickly picked up on all the era’s popular songs such as The Animals, Beatles, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin. As he progressed he found that the music he was playing was really British interpretations of American Blues.
Johnny attended University of Miami where he earned a degree in Psychology, but the real focus of his education was on the Blues. He soon met Bruce Ewan, harmonica player and brother of Blues man, Bobby Radcliff. Bruce and Johnny became record connoisseurs. They would hunt record conventions for Blues records and listened to many of the records Bruce had mysteriously confiscated from his brother. Some of these were the recordings of Bobby Bland, Otis Rush, Little Milton, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Guitar Slim, T-bone Walker, The Meters, and of course, the legendary records of Magic Sam. Johnny started playing nothing but the Blues.
Over the course of his travels, Johnny became friends with a fine harmonica player named Larry Wise. Larry was known for touring with famous Blues men and introduced Johnny to Louisiana Red. The three became known as "Nobody’s Children" and began a whirlwind tour of the US and Canada. With hit records such as Red’s Dream and Sweet Bloodcall, Legendary Red enabled Johnny to play with many other Blues masters. Nobody’s Children toured, played Festivals and shared the stage with greats such as Lightening Hopkins, Big Momma Thorton, Memphis Slim, Nina Simone, Taj Mahal, Duke Robillard, Sonny Terry and Brownie Mcgee, Albert Collins, Albert King, Big Moose Walker (Earl Hooker’s Piano Player), Muddy Waters, Big Walter, Pinetop Perkins, Luther Allison and many more.
Johnny stayed for some time with Sunniland Slim, Legendary Chicago Piano Player and a member of Muddy Waters Band. He became friendly with Lurie Bell, son of Carey Bell the famous Harmonica player for Muddy. Johnny and Lurie would go to sit in clubs on the North side of Chicago. One night they went to see Big Walter Horton play with Eddie Taylor. Outside the club they met Steve Guyger and Eddie, taking a band break. Steve was an up and coming Harmonica player from the Philadelphia area. The boys got to play with the band, featuring Eddie Taylor, Big Walter, Odie Payne, Louis Meyers, and Pinetop.
Upon coming home in 1982, Johnny was asked to replace the guitarist in the band that Steve Guyger had started in Philadelphia called The Excellos. Johnny had already been guitar player for the legendary band Rockett 88 from Wilmington, Delaware when he replaced George Thorogood as their Guitar player. While touring with all of these ensembles, a new nickname emerged for Johnny… "The Guitar Slinger.” The Excellos played places in Philadelphia such as J.C. Dobbs with bands like The Stray Cats opening for them. It was with the culmination of all of these experiences and the knowledge he learned, Johnny moved back to Washington DC to form Johnny and the Headhunters which is now a trio with guitar, bass and drums.
The Headhunters have performed for well over 20 years in and around the Nation’s Capital, along the whole East Coast as well as popular in the club scene for many years in Manhattan especially at "Manny's Car Wash," a favorite Upper East Side blues hot spot. The band has played many shows with Pete Ragusa, drummer and Grammy nominated producer for the internationally acclaimed Nighthawks. Pete has played on several of Johnny’s personal albums and also produced the Headhunters release titled Watch Yourself. Truckin’ the Blues, the band’s latest release, was produced by Billy Hancock and features Bruce Ewan on harmonica and Joe Stanley and Chris Watling on saxophones.