Michael Johnson Photo
"I guess I'd rather play my guitar than anything else," Johnson admitted to the capacity crowd in Stewart Hall Auditorium Saturday night."

Mellow Magic - Popular balladeer charms SCS fans with favorite songs

By Lisa Elmquist, Features Editore
SCS Chronicle, St. Cloud State, St. Cloud MN
January 10, 1984

As people hovered in the aisles, scanning the rows for the best seats, excitement charged the air.

Excitement of seeing a celebrity&mdahsh;Michael Johnson, national recording artist and classical guitarist who performed Saturday night in Stewart Hall auditorium.

After a performance by the folk/blues duo, Smith and Mauer, it was three spotlights, two guitars and Johnson. But as his concert began, it was obvious Johnson wouldn't live up to the "star" image. He wasn't given a dramatic introduction and he wasn't dressed in gimmicky stage clothes.

Instead, Johnson, 39, quietly slipped from behind the curtain and onto a black stool to begin tuning his guitar. Dressed in faded blue jeans, tennis shoes and a dark sweatshirt with the words Wartburg College on it, Johnson skipped the celebrity pomp and began singing.

What followed was "An Evening With Michael Johnson." He hypnotized his audience with music, conversation, humor and wit. Nearly two hours later, the full house would refuse to let him leave, with two lengthy ovations demanding his return.

His rich melodies told tales of lost love, past youth and dreams that touched every person watching. His election of 19 songs, including his hit "Bluer Than Blue," which brought him national recognition in 1978, captivated the audience as did his new song "Winner In Your Eyes."

Johnson is best known as a solo performer with a soft, folk approach ideally suited for ballads and love songs. In addition to smooth vocals, Johnson is a master guitarist, an instrument he has played for more than 25 years.

Not only is Johnson a classy musician, he is also a comic conversationalist, tossing out occasional impromptu jokes that kept the crowd laughing most of the night.

"How many of you are still freshman?" Johnson asked after his first song. "I always ask that out of sympathy because I was a freshman for several years too."

And two Johnson favorites, "The Wonderful World of Sex" and "My Old Yellow Car," produced roaring laughter.

After the concert, Johnson, leaning casually on the dressing room counter, told how his music reflects many things that have happed in his life.

"I've gone through some very rough times and unhappy relationships, and I always think about them when I sing."

"It seems most people don't want to talk about relationships&mdahsh;it's not macho or whatever," he explained. "The truth is, most people want to because it's human nature."

Johnson also talked candidly about how his life has changed his bout with alcoholism three years ago. "Since my treatment, I feel better about myself and my music," he said. "I've moved into a new and better time in my life which I'm real happy about."

After several years of building a folksy following on the college circuit, Johnson's career escalated with pop singles like "You Can Call Me Blue," "Almost Like Being in Love," "Bluer Than Blue," and "This Night Won’t Last Forever."

Since then, his life has been quieter and he has performed less in concert. "I have played as many as 191 concerts a year," Johnson said, "but that is just too crazy. I hope to play between 60 and 70 concerts this year."

Besides performing, Johnson has contributed vocals to two movie soundtracks, "Crazy World" and "Waltz Across Texas," and is working on two more. He recently appeared on two editions of P.M. Magazine, and last month he released his eighth album, "Lifetime Guarantee," on EMI America Records.

A Denver native, Johnson has lived in Chicago, New York City and other places, but has been a Minnetonka resident since 1970. He said he m may live in Minnesota for the rest of his life.

"I love Minnesota, especially the Brainerd area, and the people are so friendly," he said.

The days of being a regional artist are long behind Johnson.

"I've had the No. 1 songs in the Philippines several times," he said.

His songs, most of which are written by others, are also favorites in the Netherlands, England and Japan. In the United States, his best markets continue to be Minnesota, Seattle and Florida.

"I still play at a lot of colleges, but I'm not really sure who buys my albums because my audiences are broader now," he said.

And Johnson sees unconcerned whether he ever has another hit single. "Recording hits is nice, but what I'd really like to do is sell enough records to make another."