Johnny Conqueroo redefining old-school rock

By Matt Wickstrom

This article originally appeared in the Kentucky Kernel.

High school students by day, rock n rollers by night. Welcome to the lives of Johnny Conqueroo, a three-piece blues rock group of Lexington youth who have taken the local music scene by storm.

The group is led by Grant Curless on lead guitar and vocals, who is flanked by Wils Quinn on drums and Shawn Reynolds on bass. Quinn and Reynolds are currently seniors at STEAM Academy, with Quinn aspiring to someday own a record label, a goal that would aid Johnny Conqueroo well on their skyrocketing musical trajectory. Curless recently graduated from Montessori and is fully committed to a future in music.

 Johnny Conqueroo got its start playing many smaller all age venues and outdoor shows around Lexington, including Willie’s Locally Known, Tadoo Lounge, Big Hair Records and Chuck’s Music. In recent months the group has earned their first gigs at 21 and over venues, ironic considering the trio isn’t old enough to drink.

“We started playing at all ages shows because we couldn’t get into bars,” said Quinn. “Around the Moonshiner’s Ball (in May) was when the older crowd started catching on and digging our sound. Now we’re able to float around on both sides of the spectrum.”

According to Quinn, the name “Johnny Conqueroo” was derived from a folk hero of the same name who was taken slave only to escape and torment his capturers. The name also refers to a root used in voodoo to make mojo bags, and more recently the name “Johnny Conqueroo” has surfaced numerous times in Muddy Waters’ songs.

The voodoo aspect of Johnny Conqueroo’s back story lends itself well to the band’s bluesy blend of psychedelic rock. Among the aforementioned Waters’, the trio’s sound features hints of Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. While the group agrees that their roots are firmly grounded in old-school rock, they continued to be inspired by present-day rock bands such as Fuzz and Chrome Pony.

While the cast of Johnny Conqueroo fully embody the rock star attitude on stage, they’re equally as soft-spoken off of it. During shows Curless puts on a show in itself, hopping around as if the stage were covered by a bed of burning coals, navigating into the crowd every so often to melt the face off an unsuspecting fan with his righteous guitar riffs. According to Curtis, the transformation from shy-guy to rock n roll star isn’t as difficult as it seems.

“It helps to get angry,” said Curless. “Sometimes I’ll just pick someone in the crowd and say “f**k you” to them in my head to get me angry, fired up and ready to rock.”

 “The joke is that when Grant is playing the guitar he’s not Grant Curless, he’s a demon possessed,” said Quinn.

The group continues to grow and get better with every show, leaving fans bouncing with anticipation for what’s to come and dreaming of the young rockers’ future prospects. Youth is the only hurdle keeping Johnny Conqueroo shackled to Lexington at the moment. The group hopes to venture out more in the coming months, including making more trips to Louisville to perform.

Johnny Conqueroo will celebrate their two year anniversary with a performance Friday Sept. 9 at 6:00 p.m. as part of Christ the King’s Oktoberfest celebration. Although Curless and Quinn played together for a handful of months before Reynolds came aboard, Friday’s show will mark to the day Johnny Conqueroo’s first show as a three-piece. Their first show was also at Oktoberfest in 2014.

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