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Mike Johnson Interview

Mike Johnson

The following interview by Gib Sun took place at the NTSGA Superjam, October 4, 2004 in Nashville, Tennessee.

SGR: Great set tonight, Mike!

Mike: Thank you very much! I’m having a great time being here.

SGR: I’ve got to marvel. You were talking about being nervous up there. Didn’t sound like it.

Mike: Thank you very much. I don’t do these things very often, so it took awhile to loosen up, but it was fun.

SGR: Ended up with a standing ovation. Doesn’t that feel great?

Mike: Wow! I didn’t know what to say. That’s the biggest compliment as you can possibly get. That was wonderful, and I sure appreciate everybody for letting me be here and be part of that.

SGR: Tell us about working for Mel Street.

Mike: He put a band together in 1976 called the Borrowed Angel Band. I played with him until he died in 1978. I actually was a pallbearer at his funeral. If he was around today, he would be the George Jones or Keith Whitley of the day. He was a wonderful singer, and people loved him. He had that country soul that you die for. We lost him early on. Wished he was still here; he was a good fellow. He loved country music. At his funeral, George Jones sang Amazing Grace. That was back in the days when George had a habit of not showing up, but he loved Mel and he sang with just an acoustic guitar. That was the most incredible thing you could possibly imagine. Every time we were out on the road with George, he would have Mel ride the bus back with him. George loved his singing and everything about him, and Mel felt the same way about George, too!

SGR: The thing they have in common is they put ‘deep soul’ into their music, and you just feel it to this day.

Mike: People loved Mel. Anywhere we played, they just wanted to be close to him. They would swarm around him, and he would be just as nice as he could be to all of them.SGR: If working with Mel Street wasn’t enough, then you stepped in with Bill Anderson.Mike: Actually, I worked with Jack Greene and Jeannie Seely for a few months just before that. That was fun, too, because I got to meet all the people at the Opry. Weldon Myrick had a big part helping me get that job with Jack. He also helped me get the job with Bill Anderson. As you know, Weldon played with Bill in the early days. I was very fortunate to get the Bill Anderson job in 1979.

SGR: I understand you did a lot of the arrangements for Bill, so you were more than just his steel guitar player.

Mike: I was real fortunate with Bill because he dabbles in so many different things and still does. As you know, he’s a great songwriter, but at that time TNN (The Nashville Network) was coming onboard; Bill was on the ground floor with that. I ended up being music director on four different shows while I was still working with Bill. The talent shows, You Can Be A Star, Charlie Daniels Talent Roundup, and all that stuff was associated with Bill. It was a great place to be at that time.

SGR: Must feel great, all that history with country music.

Mike: I’ve been really fortunate, really blessed in this business. I meet a lot of great people, people like Bill. I’ve been gone from Bill for about seven years now, and I worked for him fifteen years, and we’re even better friends now.

SGR: After leaving Bill, you got into session work. Tell us about that.

Mike: That’s the fun part. I’d been wanting to do session since I was fifteen years old. When I got off the road, I was real fortunate. The first year I worked on Faith Hill’s, This Kiss. The first two Brad Paisley record I got to do. Brad and Frank Rogers, who produced it, love steel guitar, and they let me work hard for that. It was really a lot of fun, and I’m fortunate to have been a part of that. Those and the Darryl Singletary thing are my favorite things to work on since I started playing sessions. It’s been a fun run.

SGR: Mike, where are you from?

Mike: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but only lived there for two months, but I was raised in Montgomery, Alabama. My father played music, so my brother and I grew in music. He plays bass. He’s been working for Aaron Tippin for about fifteen years. He used to do the TV shows with me. I moved here in 1976, so I’ve been here for a while.

SGR: Thanks for being with us, Mike.

Mike: Thank you, Gib.

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