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Skid Row Singer Johnny Solinger Returns to His Country Roots on New EP

Johnny Solinger
Pau Marcenaro

Scrappy Smith is the forthcoming country EP from Johnny Solinger. Yes, the Johnny Solinger who has been lead vocalist with Skid Row since 1999. And no, it's not his first country rodeo.

"I had a break from Skid Row back in 2008. I was in Texas, and had a chance to do a project for a small regional label there in Austin," Solinger tells Billboard. "It was just for fun -- to see what I could do with it. I've always meant to follow it up, but my schedule didn't allow it to happen. I was working so much, but we had another break, so I decided to give it a shot."

If you're wondering about Solinger's country credentials, don't. He comes by the rural lifestyle and sound honestly. "I was born in Russellville, Arkansas, which is right off of Crow Mountain. I spent a lot of my time fishing on the Little Red River. Country music was all people listened to in Arkansas."

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The title of his EP is a tribute to his grandfather, who continues to be an inspiration to Solinger due to his strength and energy. "My grandfather's name is Willard Jesse 'Scrappy' Smith, and he turns 100 in April. Scrappy Smith is such a unique name. He still drives down the mountain for coffee everyday, and he's still kicking. He also goes to the rec center to flirt with all the 80 year old 'girls.' So I decided out of love and respect to name the EP after him."

It was Smith that introduced his grandson to many of the classic sounds in country music. "When I would go up to he and my grandmother's house, they'd be watching The Statler Brothers or the Oak Ridge Boys and listening to Kenny Rogers or John Denver. It wasn't until later on, when I got to Texas, that I discovered the 'Outlaws' like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash," he recalls.

With most people listening to a diverse mix of music these days, are the worlds of country and rock that far apart? "I used to not think so, but now I do more and more," says Solinger. "I thought there was a lot of people like me who listened to both -- you should see my playlist -- but I think there a lot of Skid Row guys who are listening mostly to Mötley Crüe or AC/DC. I'm not sure if they're going to have any Don Williams or David Allan Coe in their playlist. But you never know. I remember going to a keg party in college at the University of North Texas in Denton, and they would play Mötley Crüe alongside Johnny Cash."

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The EP, which will be released digitally on Oct. 28, will be led by the first single, the rollicking "Girls Who Swear." Solinger says it's the perfect icebreaker for country radio. "It really seems to stand out with people. It's a honky-tonk thing. I love singing it, and that seem to be the direction we're going to go in."

Scrappy Smith also features songs from the pens of Kentucky Headhunters and David Lee Murphy. "I'm very lucky that I can get songs from these guys," he says.

Solinger also tips his hat to his backing band: "We just went right in the studio and cut it. I think the record definitely has more of a band feel than just putting a few good players together. I tried to surround myself with the best people I could."

Solinger will be overseas with Skid Row in Europe until the end of November. After that, the group will go on a hiatus for a few months, giving him a chance to take his country sounds on the road. Though Skid Row hits like "Monkey Business" and "18 and Life" might be out of place at a country show, there will be at least one song from the band.

"There's a song called 'You Lie,' which is on the first country record I did, and that is a Skid Row song [from their 2006 disc Revolutions per Minute]. It's different, but the people seem to love it."


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