Pinche Gringo makes new friends

by Jordan Green

Josh Johnson, who performs under the stage name Pinche Gringo, is found at the Green Bean on a rainy night with a full bill of rock bands. He wears his brown hair long and tousled. His arms are covered in tattoos and a safety pin holds his flannel shirt together at one of the elbows where a giant hole has opened.

His fingernails are black with grease from putting a new alternator into his Toyota Tercel, and he’s cradling a cup of tea to his chest.

Pinche Gringo’s legend has spread across the Triad since he landed in Greensboro after a sojourn in Mexico City some months ago. Across the state, Pinche Gringo’s star has continued in the wake of the implosion of his former band from Chapel Hill, the Spinns.

A Pinche Gringo performance is an indelible experience seared into the consciousness. Despite playing mostly with his head down and his gaze averted from the audience, Johnson’s raucous one-man-band garage and blues is an exorcism of intensity that explodes out of a dark place in his soul.

“I don’t know where it comes from,” says Johnson, who was born and raised in Greensboro. “I have been traveling and doing things since I was 16. I moved to New York City and was living on the street. I’ve had long bouts of alcohol and drugs. I’m just coming to the realization to clean up my life.”

Johnson sings, as well as plays guitar and drums. In the past his girlfriend, Sarah Dougherty, has sang with Pinche Gringo. Tonight, Johnson is joined by Jimmy Brad of Jimmy & the Teasers on second guitar.

After the Spinns broke up, Johnson was at loose ends, DJ-ing a little bit but not playing much music. He met his love, Sarah Dougherty, and the two decided to move to Mexico City.

“That’s when I started doing the one-man band,” he says. “There’s a lot of surf music going on there. There’s a real sixties revival scene. I’d play guitar with Las Bruscas and sing with the Ex-Placebos.”

One reason he ended up playing all the instruments in Pinche Gringo, Johnson says, is that he couldn’t speak Spanish and had difficulty communicating with other musicians.

“I don’t play well with others,” he jokes. “There’s less broken fingers and broken hands. With the Spinns, we’d get in fights out on the sidewalk. People would come to shows just to see if we’d fight.”

Johnson confesses that he feels uncomfortable onstage, but loves traveling, seeing the countryside unfold outside his car window. He writes when inspiration strikes.

“I’ll be walking around and I’ll see something, and it reminds me of my past. Lots of stuff I’ve been writing lately has been depressing. I’ve been depressed the past couple months with Sarah gone. I’m in love with a woman who’s not in love with my drinking.”

He plans to stay another year, and take classes at Alamance Community College. Then he’ll join Dougherty in Los Angeles, where she’s pursuing graduate studies.

Johnson has recorded a handful of songs at Brad’s home studio in Elon, the Teaser Ranch. Once they get a full album’s worth of material, Johnson plans to shop it to a label.

“More so than me, he writes about life experience,” Brad says of his friend. “He has a tendency to capture moments. One thing I get from him is a lot of it’s kind of dark. A lot of the music we’re doing, it has a spooky vibe. It has a certain creepy element that I really dig.”

LEFT: Pinche Gringo (background) makes a powerful and holy racketwith some friends. BELOW: The artist in Tepotzlan, Mexico (courtesyphotos)