He could be basking in his songwriting accolades, but Jamey Johnson remains a restlessly creative maverick.
Jamey is the co-writer of the CMA and ACM 2007 Song of the Year “Give It Away,” recorded by George Strait. Trace Adkins, George Jones and Joe Nichols have also recorded his songs. But instead of sitting at home counting his royalty checks, Jamey Johnson recorded more than 40 songs during the past year.
Not content with providing hits for others, the singer-songwriter has a powerful drive to sing, record and perform.
“Writing is not enough for me,” says this intense artist. “I did not come here to just be a writer. I live to play….I’m not here to take a stab at it. I am going to DO it.”
Following a deep period of isolation and introspection, Jamey Johnson entered the recording studio in April 2007. Within months, Jamey emerged with That Lonesome Song, a collection of extraordinary compositions that is equally noteworthy for its lyrical craftsmanship and its strikingly original sound.
The set burns with the emotional heat of songs such as “Angel” and “That Lonesome Song.” Turn one corner and you’ll find the dark humor of “Mowin’ Down the Roses” and “Women.” Turn another and you’ll find the soft contemplation of “The Last Cowboy” or “Place Out on the Ocean.” Jamey’s life sets the tone for the autobiographical “Stars in Alabama” and “Between Jennings and Jones.” And speaking of Waylon Jennings, Jamey pays tribute to his idol by covering “Dreaming My Dreams” and “The Door Is Always Open.”
At the heart of That Lonesome Song is a trio of great story songs. The frank lyric of “High Cost of Living” paints a dramatic portrait of a man who hits bottom and winds up in prison. “Mary Go Round” is the cautionary tale of a woman who goes through a divorce and loses her moral compass. “In Color,” the collection’s first single, is the moving depiction of a man looking back at his life in black-and-white photographs.
“The album never stops,” comments Jamey. “The whole album is one lonesome song, and that’s why it’s called That Lonesome Song. Every song is lonesome in its own way, even the funny ones.
“It’s been a work of love. We just had such a good time pulling it all together.”
Making music comes as naturally to Jamey Johnson as breathing. He was raised outside Montgomery, Alabama in a family that was poor but highly musical. Like so many country musicians, Jamey first performed gospel music in churches with his father.
“We would get up and do a song. Somebody would hear it and go, ‘Man, you don’t even know, but that just hit me right where I needed to be hit today.’ I got used to that at an early age. That’s what music is for. It’s to reach people. And I carry that with me today. I honestly don’t care about the money.”
Jamey is a study in contrasts. He was raised in a devout household, yet he spent part of his youth drinking beer and playing country songs at night on the Montgomery tombstone of Hank Williams. He has a backwoods upbringing, but is a formally trained musician who knew music theory as early as junior high school. He is deadly serious about his music, yet has an outrageous sense of humor. With his piercing pale-blue eyes and biker beard, he looks like a hell raiser, but he has the heart of a poet.
He seems like a rebel, but Jamey spent eight years as a member of the highly disciplined U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. The week he was discharged, the rest of his unit was ordered to Iraq.
By then, Jamey Johnson was in Nashville trying to launch a country career. He arrived on Jan. 1, 2000, spending every dime he had to make the move. He took a job as a salesman for a sign company, then worked for an industrial pumping company. In 2001-2004 he ran his own successful construction firm, restoring buildings devastated by fires, hurricanes or tornados.