If you ever need Justin Johnson, you’ll often find him on his front porch swing when he’s not on tour. Whether the sun is shining or it’s pouring rain, Johnson always makes time to kick back and play his guitar. “It almost felt like a part of my body”, he states, “like my arms or legs.” For over a decade, Johnson has shared his mastery of the guitar to worldwide audiences. With flawless performances, Guitar World has labelled Johnson as a “must-see act”. If it has a string on it, Johnson feels like he can play it.
Born just outside of California’s Route 66, Johnson was obsessed with music from an early age. The young artist would often find anything around his house to make music. The first time he was introduced to a guitar it was beat-up and had only one string. But that didn’t stop him from sitting down and learning how to play. Johnson would expand his repertoire to the piano, trumpet and other instruments. His family admired the love Johnson had for music, though, it was his high school band director that encouraged him to pursue it for a living. He would spend the better part of his life honing his skills and develop into what many have dubbed him as “The Wizard”. His craft took the young guitarist all over the country performing blues and other roots style music that he listened to during his upbringing. The influences of Robert Johnson, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams were sown into his rustic methodology. It resulted in his 2014 debut double album, Smoke and Mirrors, which focused on the spirit of delta blues. Appraisals followed the artist everywhere he went to perform the album live. But he wouldn’t expect were his biggest following would lie.
Johnson would take the stage at Australia’s longest-running folk music festival, Port Fairy Folk Festival, to debut his album. Thousands were in attendance and became transfixed with the guitarist’s effortless ability to play a multiplex of stringed instruments. Everything from a mandolin to a cigar guitar box was within his reach. Fans would demand more from the artist and would jumpstart the Smoke and Mirrors Tour that same year. Johnson’s tour spanned across the UK and Europe before arriving back to the US with incredible fanfare. The artist would catch the ears of other respected roots artists including: Bootsy Collins, Luther Dickinson and Jamey Johnson. His admirers hailed him for the museful synergy he brought to the stage which thrusted Ted Nugent to call Johnson a “musical visionary”. He would go on to win the Slidestock International Slide Guitar competition and land touring spots with Shery Crow and Stevie Wonder.
Johnson expanded his discography to include more cutting-edge sounds with the resurrection of old-time blues instruments. This display would be mixed by 5-time Grammy award winning producer John Carter Cash. The son of famed country singer, Johnny Cash, has praised Johnson as being his favorite artist to work with. He’s stated, “I am blessed to have discovered Justin Johnson”, and has labelled his music as “honest” and “distinguished”. Johnson and Cash would record the album If Walls Could Talk in 2016. The album contained excerpts from Johnson’s debut record with newer additions of stringed instruments. Many of which were previously owned by Cash’s late father. “Summertime” and “Abracadabra” displayed Johnson’s excellence in folk music to no surprise. His social media following amassed to millions of fans worldwide who all wanted to know the secret behind the talent. This prompted Johnson to begin holding guitar clinics online and showcase lessons to improve anyone’s technique on the instrument.
While Johnson has expanded his fundamentals to include teaching, he continues to write and record music. His latest album, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3, contains newer renditions of legendary songs with some originals. The innovator has settled in Nashville and remains as a highly demanded guitarist for sessions. But in his time off if he’s ever needed, people will know where to find him. On a front porch swing kicked back with his guitar. In his own words, “I try to make every day the best day of my life. After all, it’s the only day that I’m alive!”
Written by Trenton Luber