The Claudettes' Johnny Iguana On Why He Digs The Philadelphia Phillies & Eagles
Chicago-based band The Claudettes is known for combining Windy City-style piano-based blues with elements of rockabilly, punk, and jazz. On March 23rd, the group -- which includes pianist/songwriter Johnny Iguana, singer Berit Ulseth, bassist/vocalist Zach Verdoorn and drummer Matt Torre -- released Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium, its third full-length album, via Yellow Dog Records. The first single "Give It All Up For Good" was premiered via Billboard. A United States tour is now underway, with upcoming shows in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Milwaukee looking ahead.
I had the pleasure of talking Philadelphia sports -- the Eagles and the Phillies mostly -- with Mr. Iguana. Tour dates and more on The Claudettes as a whole can be found online at www.theclaudettes.com.
The Claudettes is a Chicago-based band, but I've read that you are a Philadelphia sports fan. Did you grow up in Philadelphia?
Johnny Iguana: Yes, I went to Upper Dublin High School in the Philadelphia suburbs and went to the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia.
When did you become a Phillies fan?
Johnny Iguana: When I was seven years old -- even before my family moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.
Is there a particular Phillies roster that you look at as "the golden age?"
Johnny Iguana: Well, the 2008 Phillies -- R.I.P. Roy Halladay -- were the most complete, but my sentimental favorite is 1993, with [Lenny] Dykstra, "the Kruk-er," Dutch Daulton...
Do you have an all-time favorite Philly?
Johnny Iguana: When I was a little kid, [Mike] Schmidt and [Greg] Luzinski were kind of god-like to me. I'd just wait to hear the crack of the bat on the radio and hear Harry Kalas bust out with, "IT'S A LONG DRIVE!..."
I've read that you also like the Eagles. Did you have an NFL team before you were into the Eagles? Or were they part of your initial NFL journey?
Johnny Iguana: I never cared about football as deeply as baseball. I had a TSR-like, Dungeons & Dragons-like baseball game with cards that we used to play, using stats to execute a game over several hours... I also went to baseball camp, where they filmed our batting stance, etc. Serious baseball nerd!
But I started watching the Eagles in my teen years and got pretty excited during the Donovan [McNabb] years when they threatened to win it all, though Donovan simply did not have good aim as a thrower. Randall Cunningham was my favorite growing up. This recent Super Bowl brought me great joy, though all my fingernails seemed to be missing by the end of the game, and I'm still not certain I'm not gonna suddenly hear, "After initial review..."
Locale aside, what is it that draws you to the Eagles?
Johnny Iguana: I fully recognize that these are simply products and corporations, and it's silly to root for a "team" of free agents going this way and that. But all Philly sports teams are Rocky-like underdogs, perennially it seems, and that always is fun to root for.
Do you feel that Philly sports fans get a bad rep unfairly?
Johnny Iguana: I once went to a Mets game in Queens. My friend and I were about 10 and went with his father. The Mets fans behind us were drunk and using every profanity there is, nonstop, for three straight hours. I think the beer-swilling masses are gross everywhere. So, I guess, yes. They're nasty in Philly, but that's not unique to Philly.
I always took a scorecard to the game and bought a program. I was seriously into the game and the coaching strategy, particularly in innings seven, eight and nine. I resented the boorish blowhards all around me, barely paying attention to the game, running their mouths and spilling beer everywhere. I was trying to watch and analyze and appreciate the game and the chess matches within.
So as mentioned earlier, the Eagles won this past Super Bowl. Did you expect that was going to happen?
Johnny Iguana: After [Carson] Wentz went down, I joined everyone else in thinking they'd probably not even win one playoff game. But I discovered how strong that team was as the playoffs unfolded. I honestly didn't watch much of the season. I'm too busy writing songs, making demos and doing productive things like that on a Sunday to sit in front of the TV for three hours. I'm much more likely to watch the Eagles on Monday night than I am on Sunday. But I watched all the playoff games.
Being based in Chicago, have you gotten to see the Phillies or Eagles in-person in recent years?
Johnny Iguana: I stopped going to Wrigley [Field] after Chicago introduced the "Entertainment Tax." I stopped out of principle, it's getting outrageous. Chicago has some of the highest sales tax in the nation, and then they added this new tax, so a ticket with a face value of $35 is somehow $50 or something like that when it's all said and done. I have Slingbox, a quiet back porch, a glass, a bottle of El Dorado 12-year rum, some ice and a cigar. Wrigely Schmigley.
As for the Eagles, a friend once took me to see the Eagles-Bears. I don't even remember who won. I remember playing "bags" -- tossing sandbags through holes in boards for points -- and drinking beer during the tailgating portion of the evening, though.
Do you have a lot of friends in Chicago that are also Philly sports fans? Any musicians we may know?
Johnny Iguana: Zero. I know Packers fans here, though, and, of course, Bears fans. Billy O'Neill, the Milwaukee-born singer of my other band oh my god STILL says, muttering, "4th and 26. 4th and 26. 4th and 26" about an unlikely Eagles pass against the Packers that led to an Eagles playoff victory.
Sports fandom aside, what are you currently working on?
Johnny Iguana: Pretty much nothing but writing songs, taking care of the van and my music equipment in between endless mini-tours, reaching out to radio DJs and music writers. All stuff I like doing. Well, van troubles aside.
Finally, Johnny, any last words for the kids?
Johnny Iguana: Find something you love and put all your heart into it, and practice more than everybody else. That formula hasn't worked for me, but it might for you!