Michael Johnson Photo

"I'm a Juggler"

Michael Johnson & His Holiday Concert at Gustavus

by Jim Johnson, ApplauZe
December 1998

For a musician who has entertained audiences since the sizzling sixties, you'd think he'd be easy to label. But singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Johnson refuses to be classified. "I don't have a classification. I'm a juggler," remarked Johnson during a recent telephone interview with Applauze from his Nashville home.

As a musical juggler, Johnson says he enjoys the freedom to perform a variety of musical styles. Sure, his lilting voice and nylon string guitar are constants, but the material moves around. Johnson's most recent CD release, Then & Now, is an eclectic grouping of ten songs including re-styling of his best loved music, a duet with Alison Krauss, and some new songs. He finally admitted that if he had one musical tendency, it would be "to lean toward melancholy."

Johnson laughed that even his "up" tunes had a sadness by design. In "Almost Like Being in Love" from the Lerner & Loewe musical Brigadoon, Johnson replaced the major chord structure with minor third chords, giving a pensive feel to an ordinarily exuberant tune.

In order to remain fresh, Johnson doesn't care to lean on anyone else's music or influence. He looks inside himself in order to continue to grow. "I think everybody stops growing musically. My dad stopped at Ray Coniff. After one of my earlier concerts he came up to me and said 'That was good, but not Ray Coniff.'"

As a classical music fanatic, Johnson does admit musical influence from impressionistic composers like DeBussey and Ravel. Like the late jazz cornetist and composer Bix Beiderbecke, Johnson has borrowed some of these composers' cooler chords to color his music. But, he's open to most anything, like attending Grunge concerts with his two boys.

Appearing annually at Gustavus since the 1970s, Michael promises to include in this year's concert his hits like "Bluer Than Blue" and "This Night Won't Last Forever", along with a string of newer stuff. And which is Michael's favorite song? -- "...the one I'm working on now."

"Michael Johnson In Concert" will be held in the Bjorling Concert Hall, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter on Friday, December 11, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $11 for adults, $8 for students/seniors/GAC staff, and $5 for GAC students, and are still available by calling (507) 933-7598.

Michael Johnson Fast Facts:
  • Grew up in Denver, CO.
  • Wrote first song "Through with Women" at age 12
  • Expelled from high school for impersonating an officer
  • Studied classical guitar in Spain
  • Toured with John Denver in Chad Mitchell Trio
  • Acted in off-Broadway production
  • Lived in garage with Steve Martin
  • Made Minneapolis home for 19 years

For more information about Michael Johnson, visit his web site at