Michael Johnson Photo

Michael Johnson presents his 40th anniversary concert

By Ethan Marxhausen Staff Writer
The Gustavian Weekly
December 5, 2008

Born in the Midwest and educated in the classical guitar style, his songs range from statements of protest of the late sixties to crossover country hits of the seventies. He is intimate with his audience at every performance. I could be describing Bob Dylan here, but I’m actually referring to an artist who has much closer ties with the Gustavus community. Michael Johnson is on a first- name basis with many members of the Gustavus and St. Peter community. Personal friends and first-time listeners alike will have the opportunity to join him when he returns for his yearly performance in Bjorling Hall on Dec. 12 at 8:00 p.m.

“We try to get him here every year at the end of the semester,” said Al Behrends, the director of the Fine Arts Program and a personal friend of Johnson’s. “He started coming here in 1968 when he was still a member of Denver, Boise and Johnson, and after that students just kept asking him to come back. Now whenever he comes here many of those alumni try and see him perform.”

http://weekly.blog.gustavus.edu/files/2008/12/ Michael Johnson’s career as a recording artist began in 1965 when he won an international talent contest while attending Colorado State University, landing him a deal with Epic Records. Soon afterwards he traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to refine his guitar playing. In 1967 he signed on with the Chad Mitchell Trio, which gave him the opportunity to collaborate with fellow band member John Denver. Later, with the addition of David Boise, the band changed its name to Denver, Boise and Johnson.

After the group disbanded, Johnson went on to record a total of four Billboard Top 100 hits, including his most successful recording, “Bluer Than Blue,” as well as multiple country-crossover chart-toppers in the late seventies.

Although he started his career as a folk musician and enjoyed success as a country artist, Johnson’s particular brand of musical artistry still remains in a category of its own. “To try and quantify him into any category is really hard to do,” said Behrends. “He really does everything. He’s a storyteller, a singer and a songwriter. Anybody who is interested in the guitar shouldn’t miss his performance. You’ll see playing like you’ve never seen.”

“I don’t know if there’s any cohesiveness in what I do,” said Johnson, who describes himself as a “hodgepodge of unrelated events. I just want my guitar to sound like an orchestra.”

Although he still tours nationally, Johnson is especially looking forward to another concert in Bjorling Hall. “I started playing Gustavus a long time ago, and I just loved it,” said Johnson. “I really prefer a smaller venue. In bigger venues you can spread yourself too thin. You feel like an ant. It’s just not very personable.”

“The star quality is all there on the stage, but after the show he leaves it there,” said Behrends. “If you get to talk to him, you can tell he’s just a regular guy.”

“He might not even start singing before he tells the audience how great it is to be here. He sings, and he tells stories about the songs during the performance. It’s really a very intimate setting: one mike for him and one mike for the guitar. It’s very comfortable, like he’s just a friend,” said Behrends.

Johnson is currently on his first road tour in a long time, and he will be performing in Minneapolis, Grand Marais and Chicago, among other places. Johnson’s stop here at Gustavus is a unique opportunity for students and residents of St. Peter to enjoy his music and meet him in person.

“It’s a look back to when folk music was really popular,” said Behrends, “and his style has really evolved over the years. His stage presence and his demeanor are great. He’s a great example of what a pro musician should be like.”

“I’ll be coming with some new material, and I’m not going to say what it is yet,” said Johnson. “I hope that people enjoy it, not just the songs that I have on the radio. I retired ‘Bluer Than Blue’ for a while, but I’ll be bringing that out in the show, too.”

Tickets are $5 for students and $20 for non-students. “It’s a great deal, because tickets for one of his shows in the Twin Cities are much higher,” said Behrends. “This is really an opportunity that Gusties should just not miss.”

“Tell them I feel a song coming on and I’m ready to go!” said Johnson. © Copyright 2018, The Gustavian Weekly.