Trust the treatment

The Johnson Treatment draws
on Dayton’s musical roots

The Johnson Treatment (L-R) Huston Brice, Jelani Stokes, Danielle Tripp, Tory James, and Evan Fiehrer. Photo: Glenna Jennings

By Joey Ferber

Thinking Dayton Music scene? Think the Johnson Treatment. The Dayton-based band is a multi-faceted ensemble of talented instrumentalists who congruently move through genres in a single set. Dayton City Paper had the opportunity to speak with bassist and musical director, Jelani Stokes, on the group’s evolution and direction. Stokes, a lifelong musician, is no stranger to the ebbs and flows of working with a band long-term and for him, the Johnson Treatment has been no exception.

The band started three years ago as a jazz combo playing standards in coffee shops for tip money. Stokes was content to show up 15 minutes prior to set time and be the group’s bassist with no other duties attached. He quite factually said to us, “I just wanted to play bass.” After Fernie Martinez, the group’s founding member and tenor saxophone player, returned to his hometown of Chicago, the group was left with a choice: let the band fizzle, or pick a direction and run with it. Stokes stepped in as musical director and the group embraced an identity as an exciting entertainer on the Dayton bar circuit, with renditions of R&B, rock, funk, and pop covers with their jazz roots showing through in the form of instrumental solos, and the occasional tune out of the American jazz songbook.

Currently, Stokes is the only remaining original member of the Johnson Treatment. Tory James and Danielle Tripp, the group’s lead vocalists, are the front women of the group and have been mainstays since 2015. Rounding out the band are Evan Fiehrer on guitar, and Huston Brice on Drums.

James and Tripp transition seamlessly between singing lead and harmony vocals. James, who has also recently taken over as the group’s resident keyboardist, has a background in jazz, catering well to the group’s harmonically dynamic tunes. She also has a likeness for the group’s rock numbers and commands the stage with a passionate stage presence and stylized vocals. Tripp shines on the sultry tunes, with a smooth tone that is warm to the ear as a lead or supporting voice.

Stokes spoke on navigating the changes in instrumentalists, and about working for collaborative growth by referencing his father, a professional musician. “One thing my dad taught me is that when you deal with people, you deal with personalities. And everybody’s different. And you’re not going to please everybody. I think as long as you at least have the same goals, I think that people can give and take at times. I think that’s the best you can hope for.”

As for the current state of the band, Stokes likes where the group is at this time. Having grown through the process of changing everyone but the rhythm section, Stokes beamed with enthusiasm at the question, hinting at a bright and busy horizon for the group. “We’re in a good spot. Right now we’re working to be the best band that we can possibly be. And we’re doing that in smaller goals. For example, our main goal this year is to get a good following or a buzz in Dayton. We want people in Dayton to know what we do.”

Their live concerts are known for their audience engagement, unique covers, and outstanding musicianship. Stokes spoke on the current direction for the band and described what concertgoers can expect from a Johnson Treatment show. “As you know, it started with the jazz. And we definitely still incorporate that, but I’d say now it’s more eclectic. One thing we do well is move across genres. We go from rock to pop to hip-hop to R&B to funk, I mean we go through all of that stuff. One thing that we’re starting to move towards now is trying to get originals down. One of our goals is to get a set’s worth of original songs to go with our covers so we can have a good mix of music for everybody.”

Though Stokes is the bandleader, he is first and foremost a band member, working to put on the best group show possible. “I try to let everyone know they have a voice in the group because I believe if you don’t have a voice in the group, how can you have any ownership, any stake in what you’re doing? I’m just a figurehead to keep the thing moving, keep things in front of people, and let them know what we need to do here or there, and then we as a band decide.”

Having evolved through several iterations, The Johnson Treatment has fallen into stride. With a solid foundation, an ensemble of musicians and work ethic to boot, the band is setting itself up for a sustainable future as a top entertainer based out of the Dayton area. And it seems the best is yet to come as the group steadily molds its own identity.

“We started with 7 [members]. Now we’re down to 5. The great thing is that we’re all open musically to each other’s tunes. If you got a song, bring it in. We’ll take the hottest originals and take ‘em to the studio. We’ve got a really good chemistry going on with the band. We’ve got a really good flow.”

The Johnson Treatment will be appearing at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave., Dayton, on Feb. 17. For more information, call 937.813.7491, or visit SouthParkTavern.com. More information about The Johnson Treatment can found at their Facebook page, Facebook.com/TheJohnsonTreatment.

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Joey Ferber works out of St. Louis and Dayton as a musician and writer. You can hear him on electric guitar with St. Louis jazz-rap collective LOOPRAT at Looprat.Bandcamp.com and on his original theme song for the Dayton-based podcast series Unwritten at UnwrittenPodcast.com, for which he also contributed to as a scriptwriter. Reach him at JoeyFerber@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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