Jonny Fritz ain't normal. He's a guy with a chicken wing, Coke and a cheeseburger tattooed to the knuckles of one hand, while the other features an arrow and a W for Waylon Jennings.
"My knuckle tattoos are some of my most prized possessions," says Fritz, who got them without much forethought while waiting for his friend Jeff Bradbury to finish up tattooing someone and join him for a bite to eat. "Every time I see them or catch a glimpse of them in a photo I think, 'I really love those tattoos.'"
Fritz released a couple records under the name Jonny Corndawg before returning as himself for this year's Dad Country. All of them have drawn upon an old-fashioned '70s country sound that reeked of honky-tonks and truck stops, which means the name-change is really just nomenclature. Corndawg originated as a teenage nickname that Fritz artlessly adopted for his stage name. It took a while for him to realize that the name was a turnoff for some interested parties with potential label and publishing deals.
"It has actually turned into more of a pain in the ass than it was before. I have to explain it every day of my life and it makes me not want to see people," Fritz chuckles ruefully. "The quality of a name is pretty fascinating, how people appreciate you or won't appreciate you."
There's a light-hearted wit to Fritz's songs, whether they're addressing the life of a bear, getting popped by the cops, or praising his Chevy Beretta. "Small town, loud music," sings Fritz. "I'm starting all the fights that get started tonight." But when you're named Corndawg, homage can be misconstrued as parody.
As for his musical origins, Fritz says he loved country music so much that he wanted to make his own. "And then when I made my own, that's just the way it came out. I didn't even realize it was comedic," he says. "So it's just kind of a bummer to realize I was seen as this jokester idiot trying to make fun of it. I was doing my best to emulate it as closely and accurately as I possibly could. But I didn't do too good of a job."
That's where the reboot works best. Fritz's writing has gotten stronger. Even better, he's backed by the sympathetic sounds of fast-rising West Coast band Dawes, who give his songs the depth of feeling and expression to make them work honestly. The connection came about after Fritz contributed to an album by Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith's earlier band, Middle Brother.
During the process Fritz became friends with Goldsmith, who offered to back him on his next album. Then while out in California looking for someplace to record, they played a show attended by Jackson Browne. Impressed by Fritz, Browne offered his studio.
"But he said, I can only give you four days in the studio because Bob Dylan is coming in to do his new record. So it was a matter of necessity," he says of the whirlwind sessions in which Goldsmith and his cohorts backed him on 14 songs they'd never heard before. Now Fritz is back on the road, reveling in the joys of the touring musician's lifestyle.
"It's excruciating boredom," he declares with typical self-deprecation. "Some high moments, but mostly just boredom."