This story is from my writing portfolio. I also shot the photograph.
When you walk into the Robin Hood you will see Johnny singing alone on the pub’s corner stage. He is singing the Beatles’ “All the Lonely People.” The song seems fitting, for Johnny is a one-man band. As you listen to Johnny for a while, you’ll soon realize that Johnny sings all the Beatles songs—and all quite well. He sits up there with guitar behind a notebook computer, and he may barely glance at the lyrics on the his screen from time to time, but he hardly relies on it, in fact, he already knows all the words. So he must be a Beatles fan, right? Wait, now he’s singing Tom Jones’s “Sex Bomb.” He sings it, too, quite well, and has the pub’s other patrons singing along.
Next song, Johnny sings B.B. King’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” He’s really playing the guitar, and we’re not taking about just a few simple rhythm chords, but really jamming the blues, just like B.B., the king. There’s must be more this Johnny?
As if on cue, he asks me, “Do you have a request?” I gave it a little thought and said, “Roy Orbison.” That should give Johnny a real test, Orbison’s voice is angelic. Johnny just laughs, he must know I am testing him. “Roy Orbison, I can do ole Roy.”
There is nothing gutless or flabby about his version of “Only the Lonely,” “Pretty Woman” and “You Got It.” Johnny’s voice is just as angelic, it leaves you speechless and makes you wonder if he is Orbison reincarnated.
The pub patrons begin throwing out requests left and right. He sings a string of hits from the Moody Blues, Creedence Clearwater Revival and even Pink Floyd. “We are back in the ‘70s tonight,” says Johnny. “You’re listening to FM 107.” Johnny is really enjoying himself, too.
During the break, Johnny shows me his song-request book where he has more than 700 songs, all numbered. In the back of the book he keeps a scrapbook of newspaper clippings dating back to the early 1970s, when he began singing. His real name is Jean Descamps. The photos show him as a much younger man when his stage name was Johnny Mitchell. He began his singing career at the American NCO Club in Vientiane, Laos, near the end of the Vietnam War. More photos show him sharply dressed in a tux nightclubs in Paris.
He came back to Thailand in 1994 and, judging by his performance tonight, he is showing no signs of slowing down. “The more I sing, the better I feel,” he says.
Johnny uses his computer to track these 700-plus songs, and he is always adding the latest hits. The computer plays the backup music. It is important to stress that Johnny does not just merely follow the lyrics as if it were a karaoke machine. He is actually playing the lead guitar for the music, and his voice gives most of the original singers a standard to beat. So, with Johnny, you are getting a lot for a one-man band.
The night is winding down at The Robin Hood, and Johnny’s request book is back by the stage. A female tourist is flipping through the pages. Her eyes light up and asks, “Can you sing Robbie Williams?”
“I can do ole Robbie,” Johnny says, “I will sing anything except Kylie Minogue.” And Johnny sings “Angels” quite well.
The Robin Hood Pub is located on corner of Soi 22, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, Thailand.
This story first appeared on the Bangkok Jungle website before it changed ownership.