Johnny Downer (1971-2009)

Johnny Downer, a brilliant guitarist and a sweet, gentle guy, died in Mexico the other night with his guitar in his hands.

I got the word yesterday from Pete Cartwright, who set up a gig for Johnny and me in Sebastopol a few years back (one of my favorites of that year). Bandmate Tim Sawyer called tonight and gave me some more details.

He had had some heart issues that he didn’t get help with, preferring to dismiss them as “allergies” etc. In light of my own recent health history, this makes the loss even more painful. I hadn’t seen Johnny in a while – not since Free Peoples played on my show on 10/1/08. If had known he was ignoring his health, I would have sought him out and kicked his ass in the direction of a doctor.

Free Peoples was just about my favorite Northern California band of the last several years.

Here’s “China Doll” from 10/16/05 in Sebastopol, Johnny and me. I wish we had played together more often.

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7 Responses to “Johnny Downer (1971-2009)”

  1. Matt Thompson says:

    I met John Downer one day at his house in Sebastopol. It was 2004. I was with some friends of his tripping up and down the west coast and they decided to stop in and see Johnny and his girlfriend. In that three hours he played every guitar that we had brought with us in the van and he played them all beautifully. He made an impression on me in 2004 for three short hours that I will never forget. He was a kindred spirit and a brother in music and life. My deepest respects and regards go out to his family and friends. Free Peoples Forever. Rest in Peace Johnny Downer.

  2. Josh K says:

    I have known Johnny for 20+ years. I still remember the first time that I met him at his parents house when he was 18. I was just learning to play guitar and hey already was a master. He played a few songs and I was just blown away. What a great friend. He always looked past things and seemed to have a maturity beyond his years that others just gravitated to! Fantastic artist and person. He will be missed greatly

  3. Brendan M says:

    Anyone who knew Johnny for even an hour knows what a great loss this world just took!
    Truly one of the greatest people of all time this man was so thoughtful and sweet…also one of the greatest artists in the world…sonoma countys eyes are crying! We miss you so much!!

  4. Colleen Dawn says:

    I met Johnny when I was 15. Sweet soulful mischiefmaker. He would say so much with only smiling eyes and a song. It has been over ten years since I saw Johnny but still think of him. Dancing at the Santana show at the Bullring in Mexico (20 years ago now) is only one of many memories of Johnny that I will continue to cherish. What is amazing is that it seems Johnny made an impression like this on so many. Gone too soon. Love and Peace to all he touched.

  5. Bob Santucci says:

    Free Peoples music is like blood to me. I was blessed to see them many times and when I took friends to see them it was like joining the tribe. Billy Cobham may have described Johnny style the best, “life is but a spectrum and what else is music but life itself.” Johnny, a great man, artist and the epitomy of what you can be if you get real quiet and hear what god wants you to do. Let us be sad but rejoice to know we heard the purest sounds to ever.

  6. kat says:

    We all miss Johnny Downer, like the empty space in the papel picado of dia de los muertos- as i remember him I hope it helps him on his journey on the other side. He inspired my art and for me to keep on creating and getting out (with kids now). I miss him so much in Sonoma County art scene- Would love to see a festival in his honor each year. Peace and Love to you all.
    Love Kat

  7. Allen B says:

    It’s almost impossible to believe it’s been 3 years since Johnny passed. He was one of my dearest friends in the world ever since high school, and I had the good fortune of talking to him on the phone for one last late night call just about a week prior to his trip to Mexico (talked until my battery ran out). I still think about him and the profound effect he’s had on my life, always making me laugh until I cried, and encouraging me to play music even though it was clear he was in an entirely higher league than I’d ever be musically. The ripple effect he clearly had on so many people here is a true testament to what an amazing and positive creature he was, and is sorely missed. Love you, brother, and always will.

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