“I’m a disabled Navy vet with schizophrenia,” says Jonny B. Russell, who began playing guitar at age 14. “I’m currently taking the medication Abilify, and I’m doing well; I have been stabilized.”
Beginning in 1987, after joining the Navy (which he calls “the world’s biggest gang”), Russell entertained troops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Kenya, Africa, and several theaters of war. After his honorable discharge in 1997, he formed the Troubled Way Zones, with the stated intent “to make music bikers like to hear.”
“The Hells Angels appreciate our songs like ‘Ride to Live’ because it represents individualism,” says the 45-year-old, who cites Iron Maiden as inspiration and kindred spirits. “We speak to and celebrate individuals who think for themselves, who love hard rock, and who like to ride and have a great time...and maybe they even have a chopper bike in their living room.”
Russell has long embraced the biker life. “My sister’s boyfriend used to give me rides to middle school on a sick-ass Triumph chopper bike, and from there I rode on different Harley-Davidsons and dirt bikes.”
Russell says certain San Diego neighborhoods have not embraced him. “I lived for six years in an apartment on 54th and Dawson in Southeast San Diego, but I was completely harassed by [the police]. On December 23, 2009, SWAT raided my apartment...they even brought a tank!”
He says the police incursion was a case of mistaken identity. “They were looking for someone in apartment 15. We were next door in number 19, drinking, on my birthday. Whatever happened to the police getting to know the families, instead of kicking the door down and using exploding bean packs? Even after the police realized they were in my apartment, they handcuffed us to this young gangbanger named Soldier and his girlfriend.”
The neighbors were arrested, while Russell and his fellow birthday celebrants were released.