If you’re a music fan, and especially a liner notes reader, Johnny “Bee” Badanjek’s name strikes a major chord. One of the players celebrated in Max Weinberg’s book The Big Beat: Conversations With Great Rock Drummers, Badanjek co-founded Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels while he was still a teenager and went on to put together groups such as Detroit and the Rockets, for which he was also the original lead singer.
His resume, meanwhile, includes longtime associations in the studio and on the road with Alice Cooper (from Welcome to My Nightmare to this year’s Detroit Stories), Edgar Winter (including “Free Ride”) and Nils Lofgren, along with Dr. John, Ronnie Montrose, Brownsville Station, the Romantics, the Detroit Cobras and longtime cohort Jim McCarty.
“Johnny Bee is just so good,” Cooper gushed to UCR earlier this year. “The guy is rock ‘n’ roll … and there’s a certain amount of R&B in the DNA. He’s right up there with all the greats.”
Now, as the saying goes, Badanjek has his own album to do.
The 73-year-old just released Arc of the Sweeping Sky, his first-ever album as a frontman, under the moniker Johnny Bee and the Murder Hornets. Badanjek wrote and sang all 12 songs, co-producing with Funky D Records’ Martin “Tino” Gross of Detroit’s Howling Diablos, for which Badanjek also plays drums. Players include Detroit Stories mate Paul Randolph on bass and keyboardist Jimmie Bones of Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band, while the cover art was done by famed concert poster artists Stanley “Mouse” Miller and Mark Arminski.
What took so long? “I didn’t think about it, really,” Badanjek, who also has an active painting career, tells UCR when asked why he’s never recorded under his own name. “I’ve always been writing songs and other people have been recording them and stuff like that, and I was working with all these other people, so I really didn’t give it much thought. I wouldn’t say it was a bucket-list thing or anything like that, really.”
Listen to Johnny Bee and the Murder Hornets’ ‘Flying Saucer Man’
“I always told Johnny to make a record,” says Lofgren, who’s used Badanjek on several albums starting with 1986’s Code of the Road live set. “When we were on the road he was always singing songs, and I said, ‘Johnny, you’ve got such a cool voice, and you write great songs.’ It’s nice to have a finished album by Johnny Bee out there.”
Arc of the Sweeping Sky started during the fall of 2019, concurrent with sessions for Cooper’s Detroit Stories and the Breadcrumbs EP that preceded it. “Those guys would finish up with Alice Cooper and come over here and do something, so they were already warmed up” co-producer Gross says. “It was cut just as a live rock trio, getting the energy and excitement out of a band when they play live. There’s a really cool vibe that came off, and we were able to capture that.”
The songs — mostly expansive rock tracks that give the players plenty of space to work within — date back years in some cases. Badanjek wrote “Flying Saucer Man” and the title track while the album was in progress though delayed for some months by the pandemic. The process was inspiring: Badanjek and company recorded several songs that weren’t included on the album and was still pushing for others until Gross convinced him the album was finished.
“I’m calling [the album] mine, but it’s really a band,” Badanjek says of the Murder Hornets crew. “The band kept saying, ‘This is the Johnny Bee record. This is your record!’ and I was like, ‘I don’t want that. I’ve always been in a band. I’d rather it be a band.'”
Badanjek is hoping to start playing live again when he feels it’s safe to do so, but in the meantime, he’s planning to make some videos. And while drumming gigs will continue, Badanjek is confident Arc of the Sweeping Sky won’t be his last sojourn as an artist. “I’m happy the album is everywhere in the world right now and people are buying it,” he says. “There’s more coming. I’m digging through the whole repertoire of a lot of stuff I’ve written that nobody’s heard. I feel like we’ve just started something here.”
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