Write this down. Country music star Jamey Johnson is going to be around for a long time. His raw, stripped-down approach to songwriting and music has been compared to Merle Haggard, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. He’s been nominated for several Grammys, and his “In Color” was named 2009 Song of the Year by both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. Pretty nice honors for a country boy from Alabama.
This summer, Johnson’s joining Willie Nelson on a 24-city “Country Throwdown” tour that began on May 27 in Philadelphia and will end at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth on July 4.
“We tried to do a tour with Willie a couple of years ago for a couple of weeks, but ended up cancelling the second week,” Johnson said during a conference call interview last week. “I’ve been waiting for that second week ever since.”
Joining Nelson and Johnson will be Randy Houser, Lee Brice, Brantley Gilbert, Craig Campbell, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Drake White will take two stages for a full day and evening of musical entertainment.
“Country Throwdown offers country music fans a truly unique experience,” says Sarah Baer, co-producer for the tour, “We bring the legends and new faces closer to fans’ homes.”
The tour also is known for spotlighting emerging singer-songwriters. Adam Hood, Caitlyn Smith, Austin Lucas, Brent Cobb, Dani Flowers and Erin Enderlin have signed on for the specially designed Bluebird Café stage, giving fans the opportunity to experience the “in-the-round”-style sets made famous at Nashville’s Bluebird Café.
“Erin is from Arkansas and she is a great writer,” Johnson said in a press release. “She is very intelligent and a very great singer. She has a lot of good albums in her future. She is going to have a stellar career in country music, or any music for that matter. She is a great musician and a very good person too.”
Johnson commands the audience’s attention – not so much with theatrics, but with the ability he has to tell powerful stories.
One of the reporters who participated in the call asked, “You’re the only artist who can stand in one spot on the stage and the entire audience would be completely floored. What can we expect from your performances this year?”
“I’d say less choreography,” Johnson answered, not missing a beat.
Johnson is looking forward to being out on the road with Nelson, even if the gig is going to require some creativity on his part.
“I do a lot of Willie songs in my own shows,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to knock out half of my set list.”
When asked about what songs he was likely to choose, Johnson left all avenues open.
“It could be music I grew up with,” he said. “It could be a new song. It might be something me and the band have been jamming. Might be ZZ Top. We’re liable to break out with anything.”
Johnson earned his chops doing acoustic gigs in Nashville, so the Bluebird Cafe platform is appealing.
“We all kinda started in Nashville,” he explained, “doing our own gigs, guitar pulls and writer shows. That’s the purest form [of music]. That’s all of us sitting around the living room passing the guitar. It’s the way I started – it was just a bunch of friends.”
After failed stints with two record labels and a divorce, Johnson began to focus on his songwriting.
George Strait took Johnson’s “Give It Away” to the top of the 2006 charts.
In 2007, Trace Adkins charted with Johnson’s “Ladies Love Country Boys” and “I Got My Game On.” His critically acclaimed dual CD, “The Guitar Song” was released in September of 2010.
The Washington Post named “The Guitar Song” one of the top ten albums of 2010, calling it “Two discs of solid, stolid country the way Haggard did it.”
While he enjoys performing with a band, Johnson favors the acoustic side of the business.
“The Key West Songwriters Festival was the next step after the Nashville bar scene,” he recalled. “It’s a reenactment of what Nashville looked like seven or eight years ago.”
Most recently, Johnson served as producer for the The Blind Boys of Alabama’s new record, “Take the High Road.”
“Willie said, ‘Being a good producer is being lucky enough to be in the right room at the right time.’ I would have to agree,” Johnson said.
When asked what kind of production style he favors, Johnson said, “When I was learning music, I learned to appreciate it all, from the discipline of a Frank Sinatra orchestral arrangement to the looseness of a Woody Guthrie acoustic record. They’re alright. They’re all great forms of music.”
Lately, Johnson has been impressed with Willie’s son, Lukas.
“I’ve been around Lukas Nelson quite a bit, and we’ve gotten to be good friends,” he explained. “The Promise of the Real [Lukas’ group] is a great band. Every time I’ve seen them, they’ve blown me away. I think that’s going to be a real exciting part of the show.”
While he likes Lukas, Johnson is looking forward to playing with all the musicians on the Throwdown tour.
“The tour won’t end until we get hooked up with every single artist,” he said. “At the end of the night, I expect everyone will be on the stage singing gospel songs with Willie.”
The tour’s June 5 stop at Orange Beach, Ala., is especially important to Johnson. Money raised during the gig will be used to help victims of the recent tornadoes.
“People are trying to survive the best way they can,” he said with a serious note. “The Red Cross is doing all they can to help. There are a lot of people that are never going to see a dime of that money. They’re never going to see a dime of insurance money or anything. These people are having to work tirelessesly just to get back to nothing, just to get their house raked off the slab and put into a dumpster. It’s taking forever.”
What Johnson hopes to do is target the people who have yet to receive help.
“Alabama is home to me,” Johnson said. “It’s not just special to me. It holds a special place in the hearts of all the artists on tour, too. We’re trying to find a solution to help as many people as possible.”
Johnson’s name is mentioned along with Willie, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard – country music outlaws – which doesn’t bother him one bit.
“It’s good to hang out with real people who enjoy good music,” he said. “If that’s outlaw to you, let’s all be outlaws.”
6/4 - Little Rock, AR @ North Shore Park at the Arkansas River in North Little Rock
6/5 - Orange Beach, AL @ The Amphitheater at the Wharf
6/9 - Southaven, MS @ Snowden Grove Amphitheater
6/10 - Columbia, MO @ Midway Exposition Center
6/11- Sparta, IL @ World Shooting & Recreation Complex
6/12 - Lawrenceville, GA @ Coolray Field
6/16 - Roanoke Rapids, NC The Rapids Jam Festival*
6/17 - Simpsonville, SC @ Charter Amphitheater at Heritage Park
6/18 - Waldorf, MD @ Regency Stadium
6/19 - Knoxville, TN @ World’s Fair Park
6/21 - Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheater
6/23 - Del Mar, CA @ Grandstand
6/24 - Ontario, CA @ Citizens Business Bank Arena
6/25 - Pozo, CA @ Pozo Saloon
6/30 - Mission, TX @ Las Palmas Race Park
7/1 - Corpus Christi, TX @ Concrete Street Amphitheater
7/2 - Eufala, OK @ Eufala Cove Amphitheater
7/3 - Siloam Springs, AR @ Osage Creek Amphitheater
7/4 - Fort Worth, TX @ Billy Bob's, Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic & Throwdown
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