Mike Johnson was born in 1946 in Washington, DC to Margaret and Joseph Johnson. He is the
oldest of their three children; his two sisters are Renee and Gail.
He went to a Catholic grade school and later attended the Mackin Catholic High School
which was staffed by the Jesuits, graduating in 1965. Later that year, he joined
the United States Navy and served his country in two tours of Viet Nam while
stationed aboard the USS Constellation from 1967 to 1969.
In his newsletter, Mike cites his early influences were the likes of the singing
cowboys such as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter steered him to country
music. He delved into the music of Jimmie Rodgers, American's Blue Yodeler,
Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Roger Miller. Mike notes that Roger Miller was
the one who inspired him to become a songwriter himself. He notes, "I Just
wanted to be a songwriter. But I've had to do everything else along the way
to get there!"
Mike is best noted for his unique combinations of Jimmie Rodgers-style and Swiss-Style
yodeling. This versatility as well as being the most publicized, commercially
recorded and consistently performing Black Yodeler earned him the undisputed
title of country music's "No. 1 Black Yodeler".
In mid-1960's, Mike was singing and performing at numerous bars and honky-tonks
trying as many young stars do to get themselves heard, honing their talents
and stage presence.
Sometimes one may feel one thing leads to another. Mike signed on with Newlon's
Transfer of Virginia as a long distance trucker. This venture as he calls it, proved
to be a major factor in establishing Mike as a known artist on the Independent
Country Music circuit. Mike joined Newlon's in September 1981 and remained with them
until they went out of business in 1995. Mike continued the life of truck driving,
hooking up with INterstate Van Lines for about a year and a half. He then went
to Apple Transfer where he stayed for about six years.
Mike notes that the senior Newlon's were country music fans. And were fans of Mike's
musical efforts. Mrs. Newlon made sure her son, Butch, routed Mike to destinations
where Mike could also make his personal appearances.
We will delve more into his career as this writeup develops, but it is safe to say,
that after doing everything else to get there, he did find the time to write the
songs. To date, Mike has written over 1,200 songs. He his a member of BMI.
He cut his first commercial record in 1981 at the Globe Studio in Nashville, Tennessee.
During that session, Mike recorded five songs and later selected two of them to be
released as singles. Mike's approach to recording may not be typical of most
artists. He relates that when he records, the intent is not to record a 'release',
but rather, he records a batch of songs that are important to him at the time. Later,
he decides how they'll be released to fans - whether it be a single or on an album.
In 1983, he was sent over to Champ Studio, which was owned by Jim Stanton, the founder
of Nashville's legendary Rich-R-Tone Records. Mike continued to record there until
Jim's untimely death in 1989. Mike acknowledges Jim helped him quite a bit, "Jim taught
me how the Nashville clique thought and worked." He was an astute student if you will
for Jim Stanton and used that knowledge to further his career. Perhaps another unique
aspect to this early learning experience is that Mike has never been on any record label other than his own.
Mike learned well and perhaps learning from the mistakes of artists in prior generations,
took more of a personal control of his efforts. He formed the Pata del Lobo Music
Publishing company in 1982 for his songwriting efforts. Between 1982 and 1987
he released the single, Hooked on Rodeo b/w I Hear Her Words Ringing as well as
two cassette albums, "I Believe in Roy Rogers" and "Did You Hug Your Mother Today?".
In July of 1987, he founded Roughshod Records
to record his country music efforts. He also formed the You and Me Publishing company
to publish his Gospel and perhaps some not-so-country songs.
In January of 1995,
he created the Top-Rail Chatter Country Music magazine and continued publishing it
until December 2002.
His first release, published by MAJJ Productions in 1981 was a 45-rpm record that included
"King of the Fish" b/w "Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin". He then released Mike Johnson's Guitar
Songs Vol. 1, which was a solo, acoustic album.
One of Mike's recording efforts generated a fair amount of attention on the radio
play lists. For example, his tune, "Did You Hug Your Mother Today?" was the most requested
and played song for three weeks before and after Mother's Day on Big John Baldry's
Michigan Jamboree Radio Station, WBYW-FM 89.9 out of Grand Rapids / Sparta, Michigan in 1994.
He had released the tune as a cassette single in January of that year.
Mike has seen wide-spread news coverage during his career, from the smallest country music
newsletter to the Washington Post.
His music has been included into two music anthologies that emphasized Black involvement
in Country Music. One was by Nashville's award winning journalist, Pamela E. Foster in "My Country",
published in 1998 and in "My Country Too, The Other Black Music" published in 2000. He will
also be featured in the annals of Yodeling History in Bart Plantenga's upcoming
book, "Yodeling in Hi-Fi", the sequel to his first book, "Yodel-ay-ee-oooo - The Secret
History of Yodeling Around the World". Mr. Plantenga resides in The Netherlands and is a
music historian as well as radio disc jockey. Yodeling in Hi-Fi will feature some of America's
neglected Black cowboys.
In May of 2005, Mike and two other yodelers, Randy Erwin and Lynn Book,
participated in Bart's second Yodel Lecture Tour at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York City.
This effort has been a catalyst to other yodel-related projects.
World Music Network is planning to release a compilation of yodel tunes in August / September 2006,
entitled the "Rough Guide to Yodel" and will feature 20 different yodeling artists including Mike.
A three-disc yodel compilation project featuring past, present and future yodelers
is still in the planning and development stage.
Credits & Sources
Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Mike Johnson himself
and Joe Arnold for the information about Mike and his career as well as
a sampling of his music to enjoy.
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