On his new album Cautionary Tales, Dean Johanesen delves into Sarasota's history, pulling inspiration from John Ringling's circus legacy and the 1920s and '30s. Set to be released in February, the album showcases the lives of real artists and performers who lived here, and the lyrics that tell their stories are carried by upbeat folk sounds that are married to jazzy swing.
"I did a lot of digging into circus performers like Lilian Leitzel and Alfredo Cadona—real people who had amazing stories that many people may have not heard. I was finding gems and addressing them musically,” he says.
“Cautionary Tales is focused on the history of the circus, Prohibition, and the War of Currents [Edison vs Tesla],” Johanesen says. "I was enamored with the idea that you could tell a story while including history in it and educate people at the same time as you are making art.”
Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Johanesen settled in Sarasota roughly 22 years ago. As a child, he traveled the country with his mother while she delivered trailer homes. His mother was also a singer and performer, and as a small child, Johanesen would sit on her lap and strum her guitar while she changed the chords.
While living in Las Vegas for a period as a child, he fell in love with the film Purple Rain and dreamed of owning a guitar that looked just like the one Prince played. His passion for music grew into his teens. He was inspired by his high school's band and started taking lessons at a music store in Hampton Bays, New York, where he learned about keys, notes and scales. Some of his biggest influences are Django Reinhart, Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin.
Today, his band, Dean Johanesen & The 24 Hour Men perform throughout different cities in the region, including Siesta Key, Tampa, Dunedin and St. Pete. When he's not writing or performing, Johanesen teaches preschool kids at Love Comes First Preschool in Lakewood Ranch and Thompson Academy in Bradenton. Like he did with his mother, his young students sit next to him and strum the guitar while he changes the chords, letting them feel the vibrations of the instrument and hear the sound it produces.
Performing on the same stages that his musical heroes once did has been the highlight of his career. “Years ago, my old band played at CBGB in New York, where the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads all started out," he recalls. "I was there on the stage and was thinking of all those people who played there. It was a big thing for me."
The album release party for Cautionary Tales will take place Feb. 4 at The Habitat House Concerts in Bradenton. Listen to the album's single, The Wizard of Menlo Park, here. The album will be available for download here.