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Mike Johnson
Born:  June 13, 1946
America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame (2002)

About The Artist

Mike Johnson at Tootsies - Nashville, TN - 1985 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 St. Augustine's all Colored Catholic grade school from Kindergarten to 5th grade and St. Peter's predominately Anglo Catholic grade school from 6th to 8th grade from which he graduated in 1961. He then attended Mackin's multi-cultural Catholic High School which was staffed by the Jesuits, graduating in 1965. Later that year, he joined the United States Navy and was assigned to Naval Security Group-514. He served his country in two tours of Viet Nam while stationed aboard the USS Constellation CVA-64 from 1967 to 1969.

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 his newsletter, Mike credits imitating Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller's 'Tarzan yell' for his yodeling start. He cites his early music 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!"

In the 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.

Claude Gray - Mike Johnson - 2016 Old Time Country Music Festival - LeMars, IA - 2016
Julia and Wade Mainer - Mike Johnson - Smithsonian Folk Festival - Washington, DC - June 1997

Mike Johnson - Bart Plantenga - Bowery Poetry Club - NY - 2005
Conrad (Sonny) Rodgers (2nd Cousin Jimmie Rodgers) - Mike Johnson - Old time Country Music Festival - Avoca, IA - 1999

Mike Johnson - Bart Plantenga - Bowery Poetry Club - NY - 2005
Conrad (Sonny) Rodgers (2nd Cousin Jimmie Rodgers) - Mike Johnson - Old time Country Music Festival - Avoca, IA - 1999

He cut his first commercial record in April 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.

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, in 1983, which was a solo, acoustic cassette album.

Sometimes one may feel one thing leads to another. Mike signed on with Newlon's Transfer of Arlington, 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 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. 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 Johnson and Jett Williams 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 or recorded for 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 45rpm single, "Hooked on Rodeo" b/w "I Hear Her Words Ringing" as well as three cassette albums, "Mike Johnson's Guitar Songs Vol. 1," "I Believe in Roy Rogers" and "Did You Hug Your Mother Today?".

In June 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, and, You and Me Records to produce them. However, the label would remain dormant until 2014 when he and his new artist, James Adelsberger released a two song Christmas CD Single titled "SideKicks Christmas Special."

Mike Johnson and Smokey Stover 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.

In January of 1995, he created the Top-Rail Chatter Independent Country Music magazine and continued publishing it until December 2002.

Mike has seen wide-spread news coverage during his career, from the smallest country music newsletter to the Washington Post.

In 2002 Mike was inducted into America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame by Bob Everhart, president of the National Traditional Country Music Association, during their festival in Avoca, Iowa.

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 "The African Diaspora's Country Music Heritage", published in 1998 by My Country and in "My Country Too: The Other Black Music" published in 2000. He entered the annals of Yodeling History in Bart Plantenga's follow-up yodeling book "Yodel in Hi-Fi", the sequel to his first book, "Yodel-ay-ee-oooo - The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World" published in 2004. Mr. Plantenga resides in The Netherlands and is a music historian as well as radio disc jockey. "Yodeling in Hi-Fi" features some of America's neglected Black cowboys and Mike is profiled on pages 30 and 31. He also contributed a number of photographs of other yodelers he has known.

In November 2003 everything came to a screeching halt when three of his neck vertebrae collapsed on his spinal cord, ending his trucking career and putting his music on hold for n early two years. He was treated by the DC Veterans Affairs Hospital in December 2003 and in January 2004 sent to the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, for surgery. Bart's 2005 yodel lecture was his first public performance, once he had re-gained his finger dexterity, coordination, and balance.

In May of 2005, Mike and two other yodelers, Randy Erwin and Lynn Book, participated in Bart's second United States Yodel Lecture Tour at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. This effort has been a catalyst to other yodel-related projects, resulting from a lasting friendship that developed between him and Bart.

World Music Network ireleased a compilation of yodel tunes in September 2006, entitled the "Rough Guide to Yodel" and features 18 different yodeling artists including Mike on Track No.14 and his friend Janet McBride on Track No. 2.

Jess Seidel - Mike Johnson - Alexandria, VA - 2006 In April 2007, 114 of Mike's yodeling songs were acquired by the Recorded Sound Reference Center for their permanent music collection, at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC., and possibly the most yodeling songs written by one person.

In the summer of 2012 Mike hired James Adelsberger to create tracks for a two-song CD single and was so impressed with the quality of the gifted 17-year that he signed him to Roughshod Records as a studio engineer. James was already a multi-talented musician and instrumentalist and Mike saw a revival of a dying label.

During the fall of 2012 Mike produced his CD Single, "Livin' Lost Love On the Jukebox Again" b/w "The Heartaches Are Callin'" a yodeling song, and James' first CD single, "Back Home Again" b/w "The Holy River", two Mike Johnson songs.

Between 2014 and 2017 the two would create five CD albums for Roughshod Records. In 2015 James received a 2015 Pure Country CD of the Year Award for his 13-song 2014 "Old Time Country Songs Are They Really Dead and Gone?" from the National Traditional Country Music Association in LeMars, Iowa.

Following the mastering of their November 2014 releases James suggested they do a Christmas release, and thus You and Me Records came out of the closet! On 4 December 2014, You and Me Records released its first release, a two song CD Single entitled "SideKicks' Christmas Special" featuring the two of them singing "Ho! Ho! Ho!" b/w "Put Out the Fire In the Fireplace!".

Tracks from their Roughshod Records releases were used to create three James Adelsberger Instrumental CD albums. The first one, "Country Sounds" received a 2016 "Instrumental CD of the Year Award" from the National Traditional Country Music Association, and both he and Mike traveled to the festival in LeMars, Iowa, where James received his award and Mike received a 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award. The following year Mike received a 2016 "Legendary CD of the Year Award for his 14-song "Let Me Die In a Honky Tonk!" CD. In 2017 Mike released "Covering James Adelsberger" a 13-song album featuring songs that James had recorded for the label. In all, You and Me Records would release three CD Singles and three CD albums.

The last Roughshod Records release to date is a tribute 2-song CD single, featuring songs co-written by Mike and his life-long friend Leo P. Maimone, from the 1950s who passed away in January 2020. To date, Mike has written over 1,200 songs and is a BMI songwriter member. Since April 1981, he has produced two 45rpms, 11 cassettes, and 61 CDs.

Mike Johnson - Lifetime Achievement Award - Traditional Country Music - 2016

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. (June 2006)
  • Mike Johnson provided an updated biography to set the record straight. (January 2022)

Related Web Links

Mike Johnson Black Yodel No. 1

Sound Sample—(YouTube Video Format)

Mike Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award & James Adelsberger Instrumental CD of the Year - 2016

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