Kurt Johnson (DOGS DAY, PEDESTRIANS, PHRANQ, ASPHALT JUNGLE, DOWNFALL, AERIAL, CHRISTMAS JAM) was a young guitarist who had one thing on his mind—playing guitar. But one day all of that changed as Kurt was set up by a friend on a blind date with another aspiring musician from a rival high school. Kurt took out Joanna Madson (CHRISTMAS JAM) and it was love at first sight. Everyone was shocked that when they saw Kurt, it was often not a guitar on his arm, but a beautiful young woman. Both of them were in love with music and one another. Both spent their teenage days playing music, Kurt on guitar and Joanna on piano and keyboards. It didn’t take long after graduating for the couple to tie the knot. In the spring of 1986, both Kurt and Joanna wanted to start a band together as they continued to share their passion of music. A friend of theirs named Trevor Hildebrant (BAD CIRCLE) introduced them to Larry Dee (FAST FORWARD, ROCK ‘N’ STEELE, BONE, NETWORK) a dynamic vocalist and frontman who just completed a west coast mini-tour with the band NETWORK. The three members met to decide what direction to take their new band. They quickly decided to embrace the glam metal image with catchy radio-friendly songs. The trio also decided to go by the name VISUAL ARTS METAL PROJECT or V.A.M.P. With a name and a desired sound determined, it was time to look for a drummer and bassist to round out the band. In the later part of 1986, they recruited Craig Carlisle (OBSESSION) on drums. The band continued to look for a bassist and in the early part of 1987 they added Tom Askee to play bass.
The band started out by rehearsing a good set of cover songs including songs from WHITESNAKE, BAD COMPANY, NAZARETH, and FOGHAT. The band also worked on a few originals, including “Ready to Rock” and “Vampire.” V.A.M.P. played their first real gig at the club, “The Barbwire,” opening for local act DIZZY BITCH. They immediately started to gain fans and local praise.
V.A.M.P. soon saw the departure of Craig and quickly hunted for a new drummer. The band came in contact with seasoned drummer Dan Medley (HOMESTEAD) through their mutual friend Bert White (ANGLE, PEDESTRIANS, INDECENT EXPOSURE, VICE). Dan had just departed from the band THE TAKE and returned to Utah from California. Dan was given a demo-tape of cover songs to learn for the tryout. Dan had never done covers before. This new take on playing pushed Dan’s own skills to another level as he incorporated more styles into his playing. Dan quickly impressed the band and was added to the ranks. V.A.M.P. started to play more shows and expanded their network by playing in surrounding states such as Idaho and Wyoming. This new touring regimen started to take a toll on Tom and the band had to continue to accommodate him by moving shows and small tours. V.A.M.P. played a packed show at Reggie’s Rockin’ R club in Murray, Utah. It was on this night that the band caught the attention of bassist Mark Morrison (THE JACK, VICE). Mark approached Larry and Dan and told them to fire Tom and that he would be their new bassist. Larry did just that. Tom however convinced Kurt to let him back in the band as they were next door neighbors. This however didn’t last long and Larry had the pleasure of firing Tom once again. Mark was quickly brought in to take over bass duties. With the new lineup, the band began to focus on writing more original songs.
Once V.A.M.P. had an album full of songs written, they gained the attention of Atlantic Records. Atlantic was interested in the band but told them that they would not sign them due to the fact that they had just signed a recording band under the name VAMP. In response, the band brainstormed a new band name. Mark mentioned that he had always liked his friend Tracy Swider’s (AZRO, KIDD BLAST, REIGN DIVINE, MEGATTACK, FATLIP, DFM, HATETIMESNINE) old band’s name called HARLOTT. Mark reached out to Tracy to see if he would be okay if they adopted the band name and Tracy was good with it. They decided to drop the last “T” to just call themselves “HARLOT.” So V.A.M.P. officially changed the name of the band to HARLOT in February of 1988. It didn’t take long for the fans to adjust to the band’s new name. HARLOT quickly gained in popularity as they continued to play live and pack the clubs.
Now 1989, the band would enter Audio Vision Studios under the name HARLOT and record a handful of songs, including “Ready to Rock,” “Vampire,” and “Full Time Trouble.” A few months later the band went back into the studio, this time at LA East Studios to record their first official three-track release on cassette. The release included the songs “Telephone Love Affair,” “Addicted,” and a song that Mark had written with Rick Jackson (WIZARD, SLYDER, MANNEQUIN, MEGATTACK, ASPHALT JUNGLE) and Kim “Blue” Adams, his old bandmates from “THE JACK,” called “I Heard You Cryin’.” The band would enter LA East Studios again and record the songs “Civil War” and “Don’t Do It.” Though all the songs were recorded under the name HARLOT, these were all written and first performed when they were called V.A.M.P.
The band loved their fans and tried to play out as much as possible. They booked so many shows that on some nights they pulled double-duty. One of these such nights was on December 31, 1989 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Salt Lake City, where they opened up for BOUDREAUX and then had to rush over to the club Rafters to play a show with SLAUGHTER. HARLOT played with many bands over the latter part of the 1980s and the early part of the 1990s, opening for such bands as DIRTY LOOKS, SAVATAGE, EYES, DORO, TNT, BABYLON A.D., WILDSIDE, XYZ, SHOTGUN MESSIAH, and many more.
HARLOT released a three track self-titled cassette in 1990 that was very well received by their fans and inched the band closer to securing a record deal. At the beginning of 1991 the band was invited to Hawaii to do a series of shows over a three-week period. The band was very well received by the crowd in Hawaii. As the band returned to Salt Lake City, Larry was detained at the Las Vegas airport by security due to his make-shift belt buckle being a pair of handcuffs, his trademark style on stage. Larry had to ship the handcuffs home, but in doing so missed his flight. Larry caught a flight the next day and had to quickly get to the club Rafters as the band had a headlining show with FIREHOUSE as the opener.
HARLOT gained a lot of local notoriety and praise and were even awarded as Utah’s best Metal band for 1990–1991 by Private Eye (a bi-weekly newspaper). But it was at this time that there was a divide in the band and creative differences led to the departure of both Kurt and Joanna. HARLOT would go on to bring in two guitar players and release a full-length cassette, “Positively Downtown,” which would be well circulated. Kurt went on to other projects including DONGS DAY, ASPHALT JUNGLE, DOWNFALL and AEIRAL, but it was their band CHRISTMAS JAM, formed with their two kids, that brought Kurt and Joanna immense joy as a family project. Joanna went on to acquire two master’s degrees and became a neonatal Nurse Practitioner. Kurt opened his own recording studio (Soundwave Recording Studio) where he stays quite busy recording many great artists, including his own son Randy Johnson (STORMHAVEN, AERIAL).
The band looks back on their time as both V.A.M.P. and HARLOT as a fun journey where they made good memories. Some of the members are just grateful that they lived through it all. The band is proud of all the recordings and the opportunity to have so many great fans.