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  • Sam Davis

    Email Sam Davis

    Cairns busker Johno celebrates birthday

    Legendary Cairns busker celebrated his birthday on Wednesday by shredding on his guitar for grateful passersby.

    On the morning of his 71st birthday, beloved Cairns blues raconteur Ian ‘Johno’ Johnson rolled out his old carpet on the corner of Shields Street and the Cairns Esplanade and quickly tuned up his lettuce green Fender.

    With his effects pedals plugged in and a host of harmonicas at his feet, the former recording artist serenaded Cairns passersby with his husky baritone and dirty guitar licks.

    For Johno music is an everyday celebration. 

    “I’m definitely not 21 anymore,” he says laughing.

    “But I really like playing on my own these days. I can go home, learn songs off records and just come down and play them.

    “All I do is play music. I do ten laps of the pool every morning, then ride my bike here.”

    Johno plays twice each day, seven days a week. But like the luminary axemen and performers he grew up worshiping, getting older is a good thing.

    “It’s like B.B. King. He kept playing. James Brown too,” he says.

    “That keeps my mind young. A lot of kids still ask me questions and want to know how I play songs and I tell them.

    “I just want to keep playing and getting better all the time.” 

    Cairns music doyen Richard Montgomery says Johno’s eccentric flair - with his trademark fedora and tropical-flavoured shirts - make him one of a kind.

    “Johno should be looked after and cherished. He is immortal,” Mr Montgomery says.

    “He lives in a completely different dimension to any of us. I know that because I lived with him for a long time.

    “In my mind, he is the only true bluesman in this country. The way he sings, the way he thinks about music - there is no-one else like him.

    “When you see him on the Esplanade it’s not a very good example but stick him in a recording studio and you can see it.

    “I don’t care what anyone says … Johno lives it and sings it. He is a national treasure. He’s done more for our tourist industry than almost anyone else.”

    And while music continues to be Johno’s lifelong passion, there is one thing missing in his life.

    “Everything’s alright. It’s difficult to say to people but all I really need now is a girlfriend,” he says.