Michael Johnson Photo

Singer and songwriter Michael Johnson performs in Edwards

Career musician performs Saturday for a special Valentine's Day dinner show at Rick & Kelly's American Bistro
Charlie Owen
Vail Daily
February 14, 2009

Michael Johnson's music career has stretched across 30 years and he's still at it. Not bad for a guy who started playing guitar because he was trapped in the house with a case of pneumonia for four months at age 13.

"I just needed something to do. It was a long recovery and model airplanes were a drag so my dad went out and bought us a guitar and we just kind of passed it around. By the time I was well ... I had my hand in, I was kind of at it and I just never quit," Johnson said during a phone interview from his home in Nashville.

That bout with pneumonia propelled Johnson into a successful career as a singer and songwriter. Since then, the self-taught musician has released a string of singles throughout the '70s and '80s. He's still defined by songs like "Bluer Than Blue" and "Give Me Wings."

Johnson is performing tonight at Rick & Kelly's American Bistro in Edwards, which just happens to be Valentine's Day.

Johnson answered some of our questions about his musical influences and how he found his own voice in the business.

1. Vail Daily: How did learning to play guitar at such a young age and teaching yourself affect your career later on?

Michael Johnson: You come up with things that nobody has ever done before and of course they have or they shouldn't have and I had to unlearn a lot things that I had come up with in terms of chord positions and ways to play things and it wasn't until I got out and started playing with other musicians that I went 'Oh, you can do it that way.'

2. Vail Daily: Who are some of your biggest influences that have helped shape your own music?

Michael Johnson: A whole bunch. It started off with Chuck Berry — I love that kind of stuff — and then immediately went into classical guitar ... My brother was really a huge influence on my music because he was just growing like a weed and he was playing jazz, but his own kind. He was also self-taught ... And then later on I got stuck in that whole James Taylor, Judy Collins and Carole King era.

3. VD: With all those influences helping to shape your music, how did you eventually find your own style and voice?

MJ: I wish there was a defining moment but I don't think I've had any of those in any aspect of my life. It was a slow awareness — just kind of a waking up and knowing that I liked what I was doing ... Being true to the song and that kind of thinking took precedence over anything else. So you're not talking about the singer anymore, you're talking about the song and that made all the difference. That kind of showed me who I should be as a singer.

4. VD: What's been one of the biggest lessons you've learned throughout your career?

MJ: I really like songs that are about something. I'd gotten lucky and had some pop hits and I'd recorded some rather fluffy things early on and then I had a second career in country back when you could just sneak in the door in country music. I had a song called "Give Me Wings" and one called "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder" and they were No. 1 hits and I had a pop song called "Bluer Than Blue" that was a hit, so I was just lucky. But in the process of doing those records, I tried things that, thank God, didn't work. I tried to be commercial and I tried on a couple different hats and I found out what I couldn't do, which was just great news for me. So it comes down to being true to the song.

5. VD: You're performing on Valentine's Day. Is there any added pressure to put on a romantic show or try to make the audience feel a certain way?

MJ: No, I don't think so. I really don't think so. I just kind of do my deal. I'll think about it a little bit ... I choose the songs I want to play that day and then of them I'll come up with a set list and I'll try to remember that it's Valentine's Day. I should be more romantic, shouldn't I?

6. VD: What should the dining crowd expect from your show tonight?

MJ: I play a little bit more guitar than they might think ... It's a solo show and I do like to talk. I like to entertain and make them laugh. I got some stuff that I think is funny.

7. VD: You've released something like 20 albums total over the span of your career, any plans for a new release any time soon?

MJ: Yeah, I've got a Pro Tools studio at home and since I am a singer-songwriter these days and I'm doing solo stuff, that's what I'm going to do. It's going to be starting very soon.