Michael Johnson Photo

No Flash or Gimmicks

By Joe Edwards, Associated Press
Junesville Gazette
September 4, 1992

Nashville, TN – Michael Johnson decided to concentrate on singing while he was studying classical guitar for eight months in Spain in 1966.

"I wanted to sing too much and those guys (classical guitar players) do one thing and they are maniacal about it," Johnson recalled. "They are brilliant – but they just do one thing."

Concentrating on his voice rather than his fingers, Johnson went on to record 11 albums in a wide-ranging pop-country career.

In the late 1970s, Johnson had the pop hits "Bluer Than Blue" and "This Night Won't Last Forever." By the mid-80s, he turned to country music and became a pre-eminent romantic balladeer with No. 1 records "Give Me Wings" and "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder."

Like his music, the 48-year-old Johnson has a quiet, dignified humility.

In a recent interview, he reviewed his years behind the microphone–years that span from the Chad Mitchell Trio (with a then unknown John Denver) in 1968 to his current contemplative records that rival Garth Brooks' ballads in their poignancy.

Asked about image, Johnson, who's latest album is titled "One Honest Tear," at once praised and lamented "the generic nature of my name."

But he's not disturbed that his face, name and songs aren't instantly recognized.

"What is a star?" Johnson mused. "Billy Joel says a star is full of gas."

Johnson has sung well enough to become a regular on various radio formats for about 15 years. His songs have been played on Top 40, country and adult contemporary stations. His song "Almost Like Being In Love" was played on rhythm and blues stations.

Nevertheless, it takes persistent probing to uncover anything resembling a boast.

"I'm not the main guy in the production," he said about his music. "The song is the main guy. I'm just part of it."

His current single "One Honest Tear" is about a man unable to show his feelings though he knows how important it is. Similarly, his song "Two Ships That Passed in the Moonlight," is about a man finding it hard to make a commitment.

These and other Johnson songs –many of them about relationships–have drawn comparison to the message-oriented ballads that have made Brooks a top-selling singer.

However, he won't sing anything glorifying drinking. "No. 1, I can't pull it off because it's not my turf," he explained. "No. 2, I've been a recovering alcoholic for 10 years."

He spent a year in the Chad Mitchell Trio with Denver.

"He had a plan, a vision, for his own future and he seemed to know without any guidance that he needed a name, a look, a sound. He created himself," Johnson said. "It was astounding to watch him work. He had amazing energy. He was hard to read, hard to know, not totally accessible to you."

Ever before that, Johnson shared an apartment with a young comedian named Steve Martin.

"He was interested in people," Johnson recalled. "I remember his alertness and awareness. I remember him reading philosophy books, practicing banjo and making balloon animals He was not a wild and crazy guy at that point."