Just under a week ago, you may have seen my review on Addison Johnson’s upcoming album, “Cherokee Blues.” In that review, I gave some pretty high praise to the album, and painted Johnson as what is missing in country music in 2019.
Here is your chance to get to know the man behind “Cherokee Blues” a little more! Get the stories behind some of the songs in Johnson’s catalog, including some on “Cherokee Blues,” opening shows for established artists, his plans for 2019, and much more!
Addison’s bandwagon is one you’re going to want to jump on before he releases “Cherokee Blues,” so be sure to check out his previously released music, pre-order the new record, and read below!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Addison Johnson: It’s kind of varied, but I would say all-time, Alan Jackson, George Jones, and Merle Haggard, because overall, he was not only a great singer, but a great songwriter as well. I know those are pretty typical guys, but also Roger Miller and the way he put humor into songs, he was another big one.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
AJ: It’s funny. One of the songwriters on the “Cherokee Blues” record, John Griffin, got to talking one day. He was living in Nashville, and I was living in North Carolina. I was 19 at the time, and I had been writing songs, but never thought about doing it professionally. It was like a switch went off one day. He said, “You’re good enough to make it in this town if you want to pursue it.” That was it for me. I packed everything up, had about a hundred dollars in my pocket, and drove down to Nashville.
PC: Were you feeling any type of pressure, internally or externally, as you were preparing to release music for the first time with the “Rhythm of You” single and the “Out of the Blue” EP?
AJ: I actually wasn’t. I was so young when I was doing that, it was almost like a baby deer learning to walk (laughs). I was just soaking up what everyone was telling me, and take one step at a time. Really, I moved to town to be a songwriter above everything else. When the industry went to crap, as far as songwriting is concerned, is when everything on the radio started to sound the same because the same eight people writing the songs. I had to figure out something else to do. I basically signed a deal as soon as I got to town for publishing, and I said, “Obviously, this isn’t going to work out.” I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in writer’s rooms, so I think I’ll just start touring. Even at the time of the “Out of the Blue” record, I was never really thinking about that. I was just thinking that we would do a record, that I would use it as demos for pitching, but I never really had any pressure behind it.
PC: “Thanks for the Ride” is one of the standouts not just on the “Out of the Blue” EP, but in your catalog. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
AJ: “Thanks for the Ride” was my introduction in learning how to write story songs. I would say this is like getting into high school for songwriters (laughs). Everyone really likes it because I mention Dale Earnhardt and Lane Frost in it, real southern icons, as well as someone going on the Opry for the first time. I think it shows different perspectives from different professions of reaching the pinnacle and actually taking a second to appreciate the accomplishment.
PC: “Can’t Go to Heaven” has become one of your signature songs in your catalog so far. What do you think it is about that song that has struck a chord with people the way that it has?
AJ: That song was my arrival song. That was my first step into “I’m going to tour, I’m going to do this.” When I first moved to town, I just partied so much. There were so many songwriters and so many musicians, and if we weren’t singing any playing, we were partying (laughs). It kind of put that rambling spirit in me. That song really became special to me, because it was the first song I got to take on 650AM WSM, which is the Grand Ole Opry radio station. Being able to take it on there was such a surreal moment, because everybody has sat in that exact same chair that I got to sit in, from Waylon Jennings to Merle Haggard, they all sat in that same one, just across from Bill Cody, and that was my first “crazy” experience of getting that song to go across the sound waves pf the exact same thing that the Opry does.
PC: “Where I Go to Pray” is one of my favorite songs on “Cherokee Blues.” Can you talk about the writing process of that song and what it means to you?
AJ: “Where I Go to Pray” is probably my favorite song off of “Cherokee Blues.” I wrote it for my grandfather back in North Carolina. We come from a really big fishing family, and he was never really a religious man, he was what you would call a “southern grandfather;” he always wore flannel, always drank black coffee, even if it was 105 degrees outside. When he was on that water, that was the place where he really found his peace. I think that’s where he practiced a lot of his spiritual beliefs, so I took to that. I’m kind of the same way, where I don’t think you necessarily have to be in a church all the time to believe in God, or whatever you believe in, for that matter. So that was a song of pushing those two worlds together.
PC: “Thin Blue Line” is a pretty powerful song on “Cherokee Blues.” How important was it for you to pay tribute to police officers in that way?
AJ: It was very important. I have a lot of friends who are police officers, and I see what they have to go through on a daily basis, and how little money they get paid to do it. I know the media has painted a very harsh light on police officers, and in some cases, rightfully so, but there are a lot of great men and women out there that really do some much for their communities, and never get the recognition that they really should. That song was just trying to paint a day in a police officer’s life, and at the same time, it’s just a job for them, so they come home and see their family and go to bed, and then get up and do it all over again.
PC: The song “Cherokee Blues” is an interesting song on the EP. Can you talk a bit about that song?
AJ: It’s another one of those forgotten things. I obviously never got to meet him, but my great-great grandfather was a Cherokee Indian chief. I feel like that has become a forgotten culture, but it’s steeped so much in America’s history. I wanted to pay tribute to him, but also bring to light native Americans in general. And I just love bluegrass. That’s probably my second favorite genre outside of country. I always want to put a bluegrass song on a record, and that song was my pick for this one.
PC: What do you hope people take away from listening to the “Cherokee Blues” EP all the way through?
AJ: For people who have been fans for a long time, I hope they see it as a matured jump from the “I’m Just a Song” record. “I’m Just a Song” was more of a singer/songwriter kind of record. What I’m most proud of about the new record is; you’ve got your whole life to write your first record. You can have a stack full of songs. So to come back and deliver some really good content with this one, I am really proud of that. I also think it’s a more listenable album. It’s certainly country, but if I was going to say any one thing for someone to take away from it, I would say that I has something for everybody on it. It’s got bluegrass, it’s got some rockabilly stuff, it’s got country, it’s got dancehall music, it’s got ballads on there that touch on certain subjects. It’s working class music for the working man.
PC: Where do you sense the most growth between the releases of “Rhythm of You” and the “Out of the Blue” EP and “Cherokee Blues”?
AJ: I think not settling was the biggest thing. When I was writing songs, you can think that you have a good line, so you just put it in and forget about it and just go along with the song. With this one, I brought in a couple of different songwriters. The first one was all me. We worked really hard to get not just a good line, but a great line, making sure the stories we were trying to portray actually got told.
PC: What kind of validation do you feel when you see your EPs charting in the Top 20 on iTunes and your songs receiving thousands of streams/purchases from all over the world?
AJ: It’s really awesome, and definitely motivating. I’m one of those people who are “lifers,” I plan on doing this until I can’t anymore. A lot of the people that I’ve been able to connect with on the road are people are people that continue to come back to shows. They’re just as big a part of what I’m doing as the songs that I’m singing. It’s people that really put in time, along with myself, to help grow this thing. It’s really a group effort to make this more than just another small-time record.
PC: You’ve opened for a few very established artists, such as Bucky Covington and Buddy Jewel. What can you take away from those experiences that helps you in your own career?
AJ: It’s always so much fun to play big places, and I love opening shows. A lot of the time, it’s not a setting where an acoustic set should be played. You’re in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people, and it’s just you, your guitar, and them. There is nowhere to hide. That’s what I really like about it, it really helps you hone your skills. You can’t just play to the first row if you’re going to be good at it, you have to make all those people feel like they’re a part of the show with just a guitar. Being able to write content that bring all the eyes in is really important in those situations, and that’s something that I’ve definitely taken from that.
PC: What are your plans for 2019?
AJ: Once we get the record out and rolling, we’ll definitely be getting out and promoting that. We’re looking to do around 150 dates this year. We did 17 states in 2018, and we’re looking to do about the same this year, from up in Massachusetts to down in Texas and everywhere in between, so we’re going to be on the road pushing this record, and hopefully have a new single out in the next few months.
*All images courtesy of Addison Johnson Facebook Page*