John Lasonio, Bass Player and Friend
by Fred Wilder

 

 

This page is a tribute to John Lasonio, who had a great impact on my life and so many others. I was lucky enough to know him for the last 15 years of his life, and this page is a collection of my memories, photographs and some mostly true stories as told to me by Johnny himself.

I first met John around 1989 at a party in Bellflower, California that Lacy G. was holding. His hair had already gone silver from all the parties that had gone before, and he looked much older than he really was, and yet he was eternally youthful, like an 18-year-old in disguise. Peggy introduced me and we spent the rest of that day telling jokes and laughing our asses off, which was what transpired for most of the next 15 years when ever Johnya, as we called him, was around. He could tell the oldest, dumbest joke with such a delivery that it was new and original every time. John was supporting himself doing carpentry and odd jobs at this time, so when I started up the studio and moved my tools from the garage to an industrial complex in Fullerton, John was there to lend a hand. He was always willing to help a friend in need and would go out of his way to do so. He soon began working with me at the studio full-time and that's when these photographs were taken. My best recollection is these were shot in the summer of 1991. John had cleaned himself up from years of drug and alchohol abuse and had not played a lick during this time. Now he was feeling in good health and itching to get back to the upright bass and playing jazz again. His bass fiddle, as he called it, came out of storage needing repair, and John fabricated a new bridge of rock maple at my studio while I repaired his vintage Ampeg amplifier and outfitted it with new tubes. It wasn't long after John had his chops up again that Buzz Gardner called him to ask if he would be interested in the quartet his brother Bunk and himself were putting together. By this time both John and his equipment were in good shape and John made the trip out to Hollywood every week driving from his place in Azusa with his gear loaded in the back of his beat-up old Toyota pickup truck.

John Lasonio photograph 1991John with his new bridge 1991

For those readers not familiar with the Gardner Brothers, here is the scoop:
After working with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in the late 1960's, Buzz, along with brother Bunk, were part of the avant-garde band The Grandmothers, or Grandmothers of Invention, that they formed in 1980. The band was loosely made up of former members of the MOI (Mothers) and/or anyone loosely associated with them. At one point there were two separate troops of musicians calling themselves The Grandmothers touring. John Lasonio worked with them at this time and appears on two albums, The Grandmothers - Lookin' Up Granny's Dress (John Lasonio on track 12 BASS), and The Grandmothers (ex-Mothers): A Mother Of An Anthology (John Lasonio on track 5 BASS). The album A Mother Of An Anthology is still in print and available on CD as I write this.
Album cover Looin Up Grannys Dress


In the early 1990's Buzz Gardner was working two nights a week in a Mexican ballroom for $100. He then organized a jazz group with brother Bunk called the Hollywood Allstars, and played one night a week at the Legends of Hollywood club. I was fortunate enough to have made several trips out from Fullerton to hear the guys play, and damn they sounded good. Like early-1950s bebop artist Chet Baker or Miles Davis. The band was only playing for tips, and so it soon broke up because I'm just not that big of a tipper, never have been. It was at this stage that Buzz made the decision to retire from music.

John continued working gigs in small clubs and some orchestra work, mixing it up with his carpentry jobs. For about the last five years he sold his trailer in Azusa, CA and moved around a lot. First to Oregon, at his sister's ranch where he worked in a hardware store for a while before he took ill. I don't know exactly how long he was ill, but while he was in Oregon, he'd had kidney cancer and had a kidney removed because of it. After he got back down here to Carlsbad then Fallbrook, CA. John said he'd quit seeing the doctor at the veterans hospital because, "They keep finding so much stuff, if I listen to them they'll have me in the grave in a few weeks! "
John then moved on to Pahrump, NV, where he met a girl and fell in love. John and his new girlfriend Jeannie finally moved to Elsinore, California, and John was still performing in early 2004. He never told me he had cancer, and although I had not seen him in about a year or so, his regular emails packed with Johnya® humor never revealed his condition. John passed away January 8th, 2005 after succumbing to liver cancer.

I do not know too much about John's early years. I know he has two sons, Flip, and Paul, who is also a bass player, and that John studied music as a kid and that he served in the US armed forces, where he was recruited by the CIA...but he never told me much about that period in his life, whether from a sense of duty, sworn to secrecy, or it was just a painful part of his past, I don't know. So the world may never hear about the great adventures of the secret agent code-named Nobody Nose, at least not for a while anyhow.

Agent Nobody Nose image

 

 

 

 

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Album cover images are copyright Rihno records, and One Way records.
All images and text are Copyright 2005 Fred Wilder Studio.
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