Jamey Johnson is an award-winning singer-songwriter rose to the top of country music through fierce dedication to his craft and a never-give-up attitude. A life-long musician and performer, this former Marine first made his name in Music City as a songwriter. Never content, however, to remain behind the scenes, Johnson never gave up his on his dream of becoming a successful recording artist and performer.
With two critically-acclaimed albums under his belt, a truckload of awards and nominations, and sold-out performances in venues that keep getting bigger and bigger, Johnson is a welcomed throw-back to artists like Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams.
Origins and Early Musical Experiences
Born on July 14, 1975 in Enterprise, AL and raised in nearby Montgomery, Johnson was heavily influenced as a kid by the musical legends of his home state, including Hank Williams, Vern Gosdin, Alan Jackson and Alabama. He was also a big Waylon Jennings fan. Johnson grew up poor, but music was always a part of his family’s life. His first real taste of performing in front of people was when he and his father would get up in church and sing gospel.
When Johnson was a teenager, he saved enough money to purchase an Epiphone acoustic guitar, which he named Old Maple. He and his buddies would load up on beer and head over to Hank Williams’ gravesite in Montgomery to drink and play country songs. Old Maple, which Johnson still owns and plays, still has the mark where he accidentally dropped it on Williams’ tombstone.
Though Johnson admits to a somewhat ‘backwoods’ upbringing, he was always serious about music and was studying music theory as early as junior high school. After high school and two years at Jacksonville State University, Johnson dropped out and joined the Marine Corps, where he spent eight years in the reserves. His unit was sent to Iraq the week he was honorably discharged.
Johnson’s Songwriting Opens Doors
After leaving the Marines, Johnson performed in the nightclubs around Montgomery, including opening up one show for David Allan Coe. In 2000, he spent all the money he had to move to Nashville. He worked various jobs to make ends meet, including working in sales and industrial plumbing. He also owned his own successful construction company for a few years. All the while, he worked on his music and made contacts in Nashville. One of those early contacts was Greg Perkins, a former fiddle player for Tanya Tucker. With Perkins help, he recorded some demo tapes, including a duet with Gretchen Wilson, who was also trying to get into the business.
Johnson eventually met famed producer and songwriter, Buddy Cannon, who was floored by his music. Music publisher, Gary Overton, signed Johnson to a publishing deal with EMI Music. Johnson’s first major success as a songwriter came in 2005 when Trace Adkins took his song, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” to No. 2. During that time, Cannon and Overton worked hard to land Johnson a recording deal, which he received when BNA signed him to his first major deal. His debut single, 2005’s “The Dollar,” climbed to No. 14. His debut album, The Dollar, was released in 2006, and though critically acclaimed, it didn’t make a huge splash, and he was subsequently dropped from BNA.
Songwriting Kept Paying the Bills
After being dropped from BNA, Johnson took some time off to work on his music and reflect on his life. He gave up drinking for a year and later admitted that his wild reputation probably had a hand in BNA dropping him from the label. “They thought I was a little too wild,” Johnson wrote on his website. “They did what they had to do. If I was in their position, I’d have probably done the same thing.” Though he’d lost his recording deal, his songwriting was still paying off handsomely.
George Strait’s recording of “Give It Away,” which Johnson co-wrote with Hall of Famer, Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and Buddy Cannon, became Strait’s 41st No. 1 Billboardcountry hit, which gave Strait the all-time record for most No. 1 country hits. Trace Adkins recorded and released a couple more Johnson songs, including “I Got My Game On” (No. 34) and “Ladies Love Country Boys,” which became Adkins’ second No. 1 hit. Joe Nichols also cut two of Johnson’s songs, including “She’s All Lady” and “Another Side of You” (No. 17).
‘That Lonesome Song’ Goes Gold
After being dropped by BNA and spending a year writing songs and contemplating life, including his recent divorce, Johnson began independently working on a new collection of songs that would eventually become his album, That Lonesome Song. When the project was complete, folks on Music Row loved what they heard. A couple of record companies approached Johnson, but they wanted him to re-record some of the songs, as well as cut a few more by other songwriters. He turned them down. Then when Luke Lewis at Mercury Records heard the album, he told Johnson not to touch a thing, and he was quickly signed.
In 2008, That Lonesome Song was released, and the praise was instantaneous. Rave reviews rolled in from Rolling Stone, The New York Times and other major publications. The album would go on to pick up five Grammy nominations, three from the Country Music Association and two from the Academy of Country Music. His single “In Color” won Song of the Year honors from both the CMA’s and the ACM’s.
Most Popular Jamey Johnson Songs:
- “In Color”
- “The Dollar”
- “High Cost of Living”
Jamey Johnson Discography:
- They Call Me Country
- The Dollar
- That Lonesome Song