Acclaimed singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson has been showered with plaques, trophies and award statuettes, but they aren’t the answer to his dreams.
“My dream already came true,” says the Alabama native who has rocketed to Nashville stardom. “All I ever wanted was to get to just ride around and sing country music. It’s cool when things happen along the way, because those are things I never thought I could achieve. But whatever happens, I’ll just keep on doing what I do. I wake up every day and go play some more country music.”
The things that have happened along the way include songwriter awards for 2005’s “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” which Johnson co-wrote for Trace Adkins. In the spring of 2007, the Academy of Country Music gave Johnson a Song of the Year award for co-writing the George Strait hit “Give It Away,” and the Country Music Association did the same later that year.
Mercury Records issued his album "That Lonesome Song" in the summer of 2008, and the collection was universally hailed as a masterwork. Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Esquire and The Los Angeles Times are just a few of the major publications that sang its praises.
The disc led to invitations from Willie Nelson to play Farm Aid and to appear on Letterman and Leno. In April 2009, the album earned Johnson a Gold Record. The set’s “In Color” was named the Song of the Year by both the ACM and the CMA. During 2009 and 2010, Johnson collected five Grammy Award nominations. He toured with country titan Hank Williams Jr. and was one of the few country acts asked to play the massive Bonnaroo festival in June 2010.
In the midst of all of this, Johnson worked little by little on the landmark project that has become "The Guitar Song." It is a 25-song, double album with thematically linked sets of songs dubbed the “Black Album” and the “White Album.”
“The original idea was always to do a double album,” says Johnson. “It is an album that is a tale. The first part of it is a very dark and sordid story. And then everything after that is progressively more positive, reassuring and redemptive.”
The “Black” songs include the menacing, partly spoken “Poor Man Blues,” the intensely defiant “Can’t Cash My Checks,” the sighing and bluesy “Even the Skies Are Blue” and the chillingly aggressive “Heartache.” The lighter, “White” songs are highlighted by the strongly autobiographical “That’s Why I Write Songs,” the languidly relaxing “Front Porch Swing Afternoon,” the rocking “Good Times Ain’t What They Used to Be” and the easy-going groove tune “Macon.”
The ambitious project’s textures are many and varied. “Baby Don’t Cry” is a lullaby. “I Remember You” is a gospel song. “That’s How I Don’t Love You” is a deeply sad power ballad. “By the Seat of Your Pants” tells of life’s lessons. The title tune, “The Guitar Song,” is told from the point of view of two forgotten guitars hanging on a pawn shop wall. “Playing the Part” and “California Riots” come from feeling out of place as a country boy in Hollywood.
Johnson is a lover of classic country sounds, and he regularly performs oldies in his stage shows. The Guitar Song contains his versions of Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times,” Vern Gosdin’s “Set ‘Em Up Joe” and Mel Tillis’s “Mental Revenge.” “Lonely at the Top” is a previously undiscovered gem co-written by the late Keith Whitley.
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