Malachai Johns found his way into the music scene when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He had already started playing a classical guitar and taking lessons since dreaming of becoming a rockstar at six years-old, but the diagnosis brought him to punk.
“Part of the reason I got into punk rock was that I had gotten diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when I was 10 years-old,” Johns tells Amplify. “I had radiation treatment, so the sides of my hair fell out. I had a natural mohawk accidentally so I said, ‘Fuck it. I’ll just cut my hair off and have a mohawk for real.’ That seemed perfectly logical at 12 years-old.”
Johns started playing in bands with older kids in his Maryland hometown. By the time he was 15 years-old, he discovered go-go music and fell into the business end of the industry.
“I got into the business side because at the time I was the only person who had a car, so I used to pick everybody up and drive them to rehearsal. I was semi-responsible,” Johns says.
His responsibilities got more serious when he went to Montana State University and became part of the concert committee. Johns eventually leveraged his work on the college radio station and the committee into working for a local promoter.
“I was filling rider requests and getting organic cheese for Joan Baez, while I was DJing on the radio station and DJing two nights a week at a club,” Johns says. “That got me into the promoting side of things.”
Johns continued to work in radio, play in bands, manage acts and more until he landed a job at a new casino called Maryland Live! Casino. Johns began as the events and promotions manager then moved to entertainment management for three years when the casino decided to open a much bigger music venue.
“MGM had opened a casino right outside of DC as our competitor and they announced Bruno Mars as the act to open their room,” Johns explains. “I had been booking Lou Graham and yout regular casino-type shit. So I asked, ‘If I stay and move up to director, can I book some cool shit or do I need to still keep booking Foreigner?’ They said, ‘Foreigner.'”
“So I said, ‘Peace out. I’m moving to LA,'” Johns tells Amplify.
Johns now runs booking agency, Allive Agency.
“The goal of this agency is to be faster and to leverage technology better than bigger agencies, a forward thinking agency. It strikes me that most of the agency business is still faxing each other contracts,” Johns says.
Amplify caught up with the now LA-based booking agent to find out about five of his favorite shows.
The Toasters & The Busters at 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
I was really into punk for a few years going into my teens. I had a mohawk and wore combat boots and everything. The funny thing was that when I was into it, I had no idea that a lot of the influential bands in the scene, like all of Ian’s bands, Bad Brains (my favorite along with the Misfits) etc. were from right up the street in DC. I was introduced to a couple of guys who were in SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) because people knew that combatting racism was a big issue for me, and these guys took me to this show. I had no idea what ska was before this, but it blew my mind!
Clash of the Titans (Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax & Alice In Chains) at First Mariner Arena in Baltimore, Maryland
June 20, 1991
My ex-brother-in-law took me and I remember being pissed because I thought Metallica was supposed to be on the show too. It was still a mind blowing show. When that’s one of your first big concerts, anything that comes after is a little bit of a letdown. I had no idea who Alice In Chains was and I vaguely remember wishing they would get off the stage, so I could see the other bands, lol! Who knew?
Public Enemy & Ice – T (Body Count) at University of Maryland in College Park
Nov. 24, 1992
I just remember the whole night felt dangerous. At least what I thought was dangerous at the time before I started playing in DC Go – Go bands shortly thereafter. Then I learned what dangerous really was. It was shortly after President Bush had publicly called Ice-T out for the song “Cop Killer” and I remember that Body Count were forbidden from playing the song. Of course they played it anyway. This was the transition period between my love of Metal/Punk to my love of Hip -Hop, Funk and Go – Go. I’ve always liked aggressive music which is weird because Sade is my favorite artist of all time, but other than that I generally like music that makes me screw my face up like something stinks.
Mint Condition at Maryland Live Casino in Hanover
Sept. 9, 2013
When I ran Entertainment for Maryland Live! Casino, I had a show every night for two and half years, so I’ve seen a lot of shows. I’d been a fan and always knew that Mint Condition put on a great show, but was totally unprepared for how great. They’re just a drop dead amazing band. No one ever hit a wrong note, or missed a step. They were probably the most professional and gracious band we had there during my time. They were on time at every point on the day sheet which made my production guys very happy. Awesome show!
Trouble Funk at Cal Jam at Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, California
Oct. 6, 2017
Obviously I’m from the DC area (The DMV) and have been heavily involved in the DC Go – Go scene for 20+ years. Trouble Funk is one of the pioneers of Go – Go and probably the most famous band you’ve never heard of. They’ve been sampled 250+ times by everyone from The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J to George Michael and Dr. Dre. Big Tony invited me to see them perform for the pre – show for the Cal Jam (Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, etc). They “cranked” as we say in DC, but the best part was seeing the biggest rock star in the world, Dave Grohl (whose band used to open for Trouble Funk in the 80’s) fanboying out over them when Go – Go is just something normal to us from the DMV. It just made me really proud of our music even though most of the world doesn’t even know what it is. I can’t recall seeing a band in any other genre that can hold a candle to the energy of aa Go – Go band, live.