They know jack
John Butler trio keeps in rhythm with jack Johnson
Local fans of Jack Johnson might think of the John Butler Trio's upcoming concert as a warm-up to the Kokua Festival two weeks from now.
Johnson opened for the popular Australian band years ago, according to Butler, and both of them were on the Live Earth concert bill in Sydney last year. Last month, Butler met briefly with Johnson at a tour stop down under, as Johnson kicked off his "Sleep Through the Static" world tour in Australia.
THE JOHN BUTLER TRIO
With special guest Paula Fuga
Place: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.
Time: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $20 and $35 VIP, all ages, on sale at the club, MuuMuu Heaven in Kailua, and all Ticketmaster outlets including Times Supermarkets, charge-by-phone at (877) 750-4000, and online at ticketmaster.com
Butler and his band, in turn, are starting off an important U.S./Canadian tour in Honolulu Wednesday night at Pipeline Cafe. (Opening for him here will be singer-songwriter Paula Fuga who, coincidentally enough, is part of this year's Kokua Festival lineup.)
Want more "six degrees of JJ"? Butler's latest album, "Grand National," was co-produced with Mario Caldato Jr., who has worked with Johnson in the studio, as well as with other high-level acts as the Beastie Boys and Beck.
If you like Johnson's tunes, plus the music of G. Love, Ben Harper, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Butler is right up your alley.
Butler and his bandmates -- bassist Shannon Birchall and percussionist Michael Barker -- share a solid chemistry, with Butler playing a wide range of stringed instruments, from ukulele to banjo to electric guitar, and to his trademark lap guitars of resonator steel and 11-string.
Why only 11? "Because the high G on a 12-string guitar is terrible, it breaks quickly," said Butler with a laugh from his Tokyo hotel room earlier this week. "And it's higher than a high E, which is useless to me."
You can hear that amplified 11-stringer put to good use on the album in songs like the rocking "Devil Running" (complete with wah pedal) and the breakout track "Used to Get High."
Butler said his musical tastes "are a bit schizophrenic, really. I like Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Tool, Gillian Welch, of course Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, and I tend to mash them up in my music. But it's definitely roots, definitely rock and definitely reggae, and hip-hop as well.
"I can only create one style of music, mine's, and all I can do only is to honor the songs that come to me, like if something comes in a banjo melody with a reggae skank on the offbeat. I'm not trying to be clever, but to put a good emphasis on the song."
Butler is part of a family legacy of string players. After moving to Australia after a childhood in Southern California, he picked up the guitar at age 11. "I just started learning it for the fun of it, but it got serious when I turned 16."
He has in his possession the slide guitars of his great-great-grandfather and grandfather from his father's Irish-Australian side of the family.
He and Johnson share charitable concerns, and akin to the Johnsons' Kokua Hawaii Foundation, Butler and his wife, Daniella, oversee the JB Seed, an Australian arts grant fund that provides for, among other things, indigenous recording and social activism through the arts. He also supports a nuclear-free Australia.
"But the biggest cause I support as an activist is common sense, and in doing the right thing," Butler said. "Like with a nuclear-free Australia, nuclear energy being touted as the answer to global warming; its toxic legacy is forgotten. Forty percent of the uranium in the world is found in Australia, and the country's been lobbied heavily by multinational corporations to mine it. But uranium is highly carcinogenic and toxic, so just to fight against this makes sense."