RCD58: Mike Johnson's Guitar Songs Vol.9 Acoustic Series "I Must Heed Its Call" (20 yodeling songs)
RCD59: Mike Johnson's Guitar Songs Vol.10 Acoustic Series "You Can't Take the Yodel Outta Me!" (20 yodeling songs)
On 29 August 2016, in a ceremony officiated by Bob Everhart, president of the National Traditional Country Music Association, Mike Johnson receioved the 2016 'Lifetime Achievement" Award, and his label-mate, James Adelsberger received the Rural Roots Music Commission 2016 "Instrumental CD of the Year" Award on the Main Stage at the week-long 41st Annual Old Time Country Music Festival in LeMars, Iowa. Roughshod Records released its 51st & 52nd CDs on 13 August 2016. Mike Johnson's 14-song "Let Me Die In a Honky Tonk!" and James Adelsberger's 13-song "My Heart Still Sees!" In August 2017 Mike Johnson received a "Legendary Honky Tonk CD of the Year" Award for the Honky Tonk CD. On 13 June 2017 Roughshod Records released it 54th CD "Covering James Adelsberger" featuring Mike Johnson singing 13 songs that were recorded by James Adelsberger, and on that same day, You and Me Records released two James Adelsberger Instrumental CDs, "Going Places!' and "Here We Go Again!" These CDs are available from the Roughshod Records online Web Store.
Library of Congress "Mike Johnson Collection"
First acquisition 27 April 2007
Mike Johnson Yodel Song Archives Vol.1 * Mike Johnson, The Official Short Version Biography * Mike Johnson Yodel Song Archives Vol.2
"Black Yodel No.1, The Song, The Songwriter" CD * "Did You Hug Your Mother Today?" CD * "Mike Johnson Yodeling 40 Years" CD * "Mike Johnson Live!" DVD.
There have been other Black Yodelers in America. Most of them had their hey-day during the Minstrel and Stringband era between 1880 and 1925, like the famous Monroe Tabor, Beulah Henderson, Charles Anderson, and The Mississippi Sheiks. Then came Mike's personal friend, U.S. Army Korean War Veteran & Bronze Star recipient, McDonald Craig of Linden, Tennessee, who recorded briefly on Nashville's Gold Standard label during the mid-1960s and is the only Black Yodeler to win First Place at an Annual  Jimmie Rodgers Yodeling Championship hosted by the Jimmie Rodgers Museum in Meridian, Mississippi. Others along the way include Linda Martell, Stoney Edwards, and Slim Gaillard.
And just how did Mike Johnson learn to yodel?
"Johnny Weissmuller," he quickly acknowledges. "I grew up during the 1950s and 1960s, a period when adventure movies and cliff-hangers ruled the Silver Screen. Westerns, Gladiators, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, and my all-time favorite, Tarzan! I read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels in grade school, and the summer camps and Boy Scout camping trips set the stage for many of us to imitate him. I wore out that Tarzan yodel, morning, noon, and night! At one point my mother threatened to ship me off to Africa, much to my youthful delight! So, I was actually yodeling before I even realized it and when I got into Country Music, I already had a major head-start with the yodeling. Without a doubt, it was my yodeling that paved my early music road."
In fact, one of Mike's yodeling songs paints a humorous picture of that. From the Main Stage at the 2000 Avoca Old Time Country Music Festival in Avoca, Iowa, Bob Everhart, President of the National Traditional Country Music Association was handing out awards and he suddenly turned to Mike, who was videotaping the event, and asked him "How did you get into yodeling, Mike..." To which he replied, "Johnny Weissmuller." Bob scratched his head a puzzled moment and then exclaimed, "Johnny Weissmuller. Oh, he played Tarzan! Yeah, I guess that is a yodel..." On 25 July 2001 Mike wrote the amusing yodel song, "Tarzan Did!" under the working title of "The Bob Everhart Song."
Mike Johnson, Country Music's No.1 Black Yodeler by Joe Arnold
BRIEF FAMILY BACKGROUND:
It has often been said that to truly know and understand a person you have to know something about where the person came from. Since I’ve known Mike since day one, I can tell you first and foremost that he is not the product of a poverty-stricken, drug and violence infected ghetto, slum, or public housing. While this seems to be an all too favorite assumption by journalists, reporters and biographers when presenting many of our non-Anglo and ethnic Americans, Mike enjoyed a nurturing and structured working middle-class upbringing where respect, discipline and chores were the household rule, not the exception.
After a little more than a year of apartment living and pinching pennies, Thomasina eventually found and purchased a three bedroom house on Vermont Avenue in a quiet, middle class colored neighborhood in the North West section of the city. It was a modest wood framed affair, complete with a bay window, front and back yard, outhouse, icebox [had to buy ice from the local Ice House], a potbellied stove for "central heating" and a ringer-washing machine that got young Mike's butt whipped. Like many during that era, Mike remembers his grandma literally ironing the bed sheets on cold winter nights before they turned in. Modern conveniences like a gas stove, radiator heat, and a indoor bathroom would be added as her financial condition improved.
Ms. Bell supported her young family by working as a beautician at Katie's Beauty Shop on 14th Street NW, during the day and attending night classes to obtain her own beautician's license. Her income was supplemented with some occasional help from her older sister, Gladys Hill, who breezed through DC to New Jersey for a brief spell before settling down in the Bronx, in New York City. When she obtained her operator's license Thomasina found a building a block north of Katie's and opened her own shop, Beauty Charm, which she ran until her death on 12 May 1973. Mike's high school was about a mile north of the shop and during his senior year he would stop by after school to sweep and mop up. Incidentally, up until Mike was born, his grandmother was affectionately called Mama Dear by her family. Mike couldn't quite get the words right and called her Doppa Dear, a name by which she was called from then on. Such is the power of the first-born...
Mike's father, Joseph Armond Johnson was born in born in April 1929 in Washington DC and died in February 1972 in the Veteran's Hospital in Washington DC. Joseph's mother, Elizabeth L. Johnson, was born and raised in the small farming community of Olney, Maryland, and was the subject of much speculation because of her "sudden" appearance in Washington and her reluctance to talk about her family background. Joseph, like Margaret, attended and graduated from Garrison Elementary and Cardoza public High Schools. The ambitious high school sweethearts married after graduation. They saved and pooled their money and eventually bought a small house in Washington's South West section, and later on, a second house that they rented out. Joseph owned a small newspaper business and Margaret worked nights as a box clerk in a local department store. Home ownership was short-lived because greedy developers saw this waterfront area, once deemed "worthless" as profitable and through government contracts swooped in and forced out the homeowners who wouldn't sell. Joseph was honorably discharged from the US Army and worked a number of jobs afterwards, including as a truck driver and as a warehouse meat packer before his death.
Margaret Johnson, on the other hand, took the Civil Service examination and was hired as a stenographer by the Government Accounting Office. She moved steadily up the ladder from there to the Federal Trade Commission, The Bureau of Textiles & Furs, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, from which she would retire. In 1973 she received her Associates Degree in Applied Science Degree from Washington Technical Institute. Mike would attend Washington Technical Institute after his military service.
Margaret also took classes in Business Law and Consumer Regulations at Federal City College, The American University, and the Para-Legal Program at the University during the 1980s. She would eventually purchase another house in 1973 where she raised her youngest daughter Gail and Gail’s first born, Genell. She paid off the mortgage in 15 years! It should be noted that neither Mike nor Renee grew up in this house. He never lived with his mother again after graduating from high school and joining the US Navy in 1965. Margaret was a fiercely independent person and she had raised her children to be independent as well. In that regard, Mike definitely took after his mother.
Young Mike was an inquisitive, energetic child with a vivid imagination who loved to read, write, and draw and paint pictures. He was intrigued by the outdoors and all things wild and longed for the day that he would be able to do some of those things. Mike attended Catholic schools, starting with St. Augustine's all-colored school, from Kindergarten to the 5th grade. His parents had separated about this time and Margaret, secure in her new government job, moved her family to Capitol Hill in 1957 where he started the 6th grade at St. Peter's predominately white school, about three blocks from the US Capitol.
It was here that his first doorway to the adventures he craved opened. He joined St. Peter's very active Boy Scout Troop 380, and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in 1960, and about a year later, the Bronze, Gold, and Silver Eagle Palms. During this period, Mike also became involved with summer camp programs and a independent camping group called the Trail Blazers, sponsored by Family & Child Services. He was also an Altar Boy and graduated from St. Peter's in June 1961.
Mike is 2nd from the Right Top Row
He then attended Mackin Catholic High School, a small school of about 350 students, with a substantial international student body. Mike fondly admits that meeting and knowing people from so many different cultures and countries made Mackin his best school years. Too small for a football team, Mackin High was a Basketball super-power to be reckoned with during the 1960s. Mike didn't play ball, but he was active on the Track & Field Team, Cross Country Team, Rifle Team [until his mom found out and made him quit], Weight Lifting Team, and the Dramatics Club. In the latter, he had the lead role during his Senior Year presentation of "The Twelve Angry Men." He was also the Art Editor on his Senior Yearbook Staff and did the cover drawing, as well as some of the front piece art for the different sections.
The mid-1950s through his high school years were exciting times for young Mike. Frank Price taught him how to shoot rifles and how to ride bareback on his mare, Old Bay, at Ivakota Farm in Clifton, Virginia. Sam Buckmaster, a barn builder and waterman in Prince Frederick, Maryland taught him about the river, while Sam's sons Keith, Kevin and Danny taught him crabbing and fishing, and how to handle a canoe and scull a row boat. Primitive camping and back packing was a big deal in his Boy Scout Troop under the leadership of Cy Emery, a World War II Navy combat veteran. “Rough & Ready” was the troop’s motto and each scout had to keep a packed knapsack next to his bed for one of Cy’s many impromptu trips. Since then he has always kept a travel bag in his vehicles with up to a weeks worth of clothing, etc.
"Tarzan" 1958 Mercury Montclair
Mike graduated from Mackin High School in June 1965 with his sights set on becoming a Veterinarian. He got a draft notice from the Selective Service that summer and in September of that same year he joined the U.S. Navy Reserves. He was assigned to a Navy Security Group at the Navy Yard in Washington DC, and after Boot Camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility in Illinois, he was eventually sent to the Navy's Communication A-School in Bainbridge, Maryland. In January 1967 he was temporarily assigned to the Navy Air Station across the river from the Washington DC Navy Yard, to await orders for his active duty station.
Mike on the Flight Deck of the "Connie."
After his active duty discharge from the USS Constellation in February 1969, Mike packed up his 1968 Kawasaki A7SS Avenger with his Winchester Model-94 and zipped out of San Diego, California for the East Coast. He recalls that the weather from California to East Texas was extremely cold, with continuous head-winds pounding him on those long stretches through Arizona and Texas.
Once home he landed a bus boy job at Mike Palm's Restaurant on Capitol Hill. Palm's sons, Mike Jr. and Herbert were in St. Peter's Boy Scout Troop 380 as kids along with Mike. Feeling confined and restless, he became a motorcycle courier job with Mar-Sid's Courier Service. Mar-Sid had recently opened the first official Kawasaki dealership on the East Coast and quickly utilized Mike's coast to coast trip on his Kawasaki to draw customers to his motorcycle dealership.
While waiting for a slot as a Park Police Officer he worked at the Wonder Bread factory on the conveyor line catching the breads and pastries and racking them. If they ran out of racks, the bread kept coming and there was a mad scramble to find more racks! Mike swore off of bread for about six months! He enrolled at Washington Technical Institute with his GI Bill, this time focusing on becoming a Forest Ranger. However, he couldn't get back into the study routine and dropped out almost two years later. In 1973 became a Freelance Photographer. That kept him too busy and after several other ventures, like Store Detective for Sears & Roebuck and Housing Police Officer he got itchy feet again.
Mike began performing in local bars and
honky-tonks in the mid-1960s clear on up to his military service. The Songsmith, The Shamrock, Southwest
Tavern, The Tune Inn, Tucson Café, The Hoffbraugh, Food For Thought, and
Lee-Hi's Bar & Grill in Washington, DC.; Dawson's Pool Hall in Clinton
Maryland; Iler's Store in Ripley, Maryland; Boozie's, Club Stabil, and the
Tee-Pee Restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland; and Hillbilly Heaven in Lorton,
Virginia, just across the Woodbridge County line. His early influences were Singing Movie &
TV Cowboys like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, and Herb Jeffries, the first
and only Black Movie Singing Cowboy. The sound of the Steel Guitar coming
from Mary’s Blue Room on Capitol Hill paved his way to Country Music.
After Friday night scout meetings he and his friends often took the long way
home so they could sit outside the little honky tonk and listen to the music. He
would later hone himself on the music of Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Johnny
Cash, and his
songwriting idol, Roger Miller. Mike says Roger Miller gave him
the songwriting bug.
After his military discharge he picked up his music where he left off at some of the former places that he had played. Juggling his time between his regular work, [he always had a day job] camping, shooting, motorcycle, and horseback riding, he began recording some of his rehearsals, and even had a few demos made of some of his favorite songs at Omega Recording Studio up in Rockville, Maryland. He found a song-demo ad by Globe Recording Studio in the back of a country music magazine and had them do a couple of his songs. He was slowly trying to convince himself, with encouragement from some of his friends, that maybe doing a full studio session wasn't as far-fetched as it had seemed.
Good love, bad love, and lost love also touched his life, particularly after his return from Vietnam. The death of his father, a best friend, a foster-son, his favorite grandmother shortly after, and his breakup with a childhood sweet-heart set the tone for many of the songs he wrote and would write.
"I just wanted to be a songwriter! But I've had to do everything else along the way to get there!"
Sometime in 1978 Mike began gradually extending his music range. But in spite of some of the enthusiastic responses he got on stage, he still sensed a general undercurrent of indifference. Also during this time a chance encounter with a retired Mediterranean Cruise ship singer name Joe Capalbi, would play a major role in Mike's music development. Known as "Sicilian Soul" during his heyday, Capalbi owned and operated ARDIS MUSIC, a combination music store and gift shop that was located on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington DC. He and his oldest daughter also gave music lessons and had a small stage in the back of the main shop. Mike was working as a Freelance Photographer between regular jobs and often passed by the shop, which incidentally was a couple of doors down from FOOD FOR THOUGHT, a local music hangout, which was next to the old Boy Scout National Headquarters. One day Mike decided to stop in and browse, and Joe, sitting behind the counter playing his classical guitar, readily engaged him in a conversation.
"When Joe found out that I was writing songs and that I sang some, he became more interested. He encouraged me to come back and bring some of my own songs, preferably non-yodeling songs. He was more interested in the quality of my writing and not a distracting gimmick. For some reason I made special trips to his shop. I would play my Roger Miller, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash songs. He enjoyed them, but he made it obvious that he was more interested in my songs. I'd been generally reluctant to sing my own songs, mainly because I wasn't that good of a guitarist. And yes, I was using my yodeling to compensate. Joe was determined, and he began practicing some of my songs with me and giving me music assignments! He'd give me sheet music to other songs and had me practice them. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I kept coming back. Then after awhile he had me up on his little stage in the back. He'd listen patiently and offer his critique, telling me how to stand, how to adjust the mic, and use body language. He'd sometimes invite others to drop in while I was performing. But he was adamant about me singing my own songs. Then one day several months later, he sat me down and looked me square in the eyes, grinning like a tomcat and said to me, "I knew there was a Mike Johnson in there somewhere."
"I was kinda puzzled. Then he told me that he thought that my songs were just as good as anyone else's out there but that I was short-changing myself by neglecting them to imitate Roger Miller, Hank, Johnny Cash, and others. That was okay to get started he said, but it was time for me to be 'Mike Johnson' and not just another singing clone.
"It wasn't long after that, that I realized what he had been doing. He had subtly built up my confidence and helped me turn my minor stage fright into a real stage presence. I'll never forget that big proud grin on his face when I returned from my very first Nashville recording session in April 1981 and presented him with a copy of my first 45rpm. He put some of them in his music bins for sale, and even carried some of my sheet music. Joe had very subtly made me get into my songs and discover my own musical self.
"Wow! When I think back, it's pretty obvious that you don't always know when or where a genuine gift will come from. Joe was truly one of them!"
In April 1981 Mike
decided to take the plunge! He took his Easter vacation, packed up his Chevy
C10 pickup and drove
down to Nashville, to do his first professional recording session at Jim
Maxwell's Globe Recording Studio at 1313 Dickerson Road. He
booked a two-hour session and recorded five songs.
1. King Of The Fish
2. Please Don't Squeeze The Charmin
3. Just A Nobody
4. A Singing Star
5. Little Boys And Doggies.
"I still regard this session as the best one I ever
did!" Mike maintains.
From that sprang his first 45rpm single, "King of the Fish" [A-side] and "Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin" [B-side] released on his MAJJ Productions literary banner.
During his week long Easter vacation Mike frequented Ernest Tubb's Record Shop and particularly their friendly competition, Lawrence Record Shop, a couple of doors down at 409 Broadway in downtown Nashville. For some reason Jack and Ida Lawrence took a liking to Mike and they enthusiastically became the first retailer to stock his new 45rpms. They have been carrying Mike's releases ever since, with the same verbal agreement passing down to the oldest son, Jack Sr., then to the younger son and current proprietor, Paul Lawrence, who sometimes receives a little help from Mike's old mid-1980s drinking buddy, Ted Lawrence, the middle brother. Mike received a email from Paul in early October 2008 informing him that Ted was currently undergoing treatment for a serious medical condition. When you're in Nashville, drop by Lawrence Record Shop and see photos and posters of Mike and numerous other Country artists past and present on their Photo Wall of Fame.
Mike quickly became a regular on Nashville's lower Broadway during the 1980s. He made his first Nashville appearances at The Merchant's, a combination "greasy spoon" bar & grille/flophouse motel, with a stage in the rear. He also appeared on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree on Broadway and eventually you could find him hanging out with music regulars John & Lois Shepherd, whom he also met in 1981 at Millie & Al’s, a two-level bar [now Legend’s on the Corner] that stood next to the original Grand Ole Opry. No matter where they performed, John and Lois continued to share their stage with him whenever he came to town! He frequented Norma's famous Dusty Roads Bar on Woodland Street and hung out with a fella going by the name of Jack "Pop" Stoneman, and his friend, Owen McCarthy when the bar was still on Woodland Street. He hung with Ronnie Root, a Hank Williams impersonator, Tommy Boyles and performed at Robert Moore’s Rhinestone Cowboy" bar which was across the street from the future “Robert’s Western Wear” that Moore would open.
Clifford Abernathy, a local Nashville singer, songwriter, and photographer became a good friend and at times he followed Mike around and photographed him when he was in town. Mike's own photographic skills began to expand during the 1980s as he began photo-documenting as much of his musical exploits as he could, which has resulted in a very sizable collection. His biggest regret is that he didn’t have a camcorder, or at least a decent 8mm sound camera.
Following a five year stint with the Housing Police Mike landed a job as a long distance trucker for Newlon’s Transfer in Arlington, Virginia in September 1981. He drove for them until December 1995 when they closed down their operation. This first of three trucking companies, would play a major role in establishing him on the Independent Country Music circuit and his music would air on many international radio stations.
When Globe Studio relocated to White House, Tennessee
in 1983, Mike wished to continue recording in Nashville. So Maxwell sent him
over to his friend Jim Stanton at Champ Recording Studio on Church
Street, where Mike met and mentored under the founder and owner of the
legendary Rich-R-Tone Records and continued to record his songs at
Champ Studio until Jim's untimely death in 1989.
"Jim taught me how the Nashville clique thought and worked..." Mike acknowledges.
Following his 1981 Nashville session, more local places were added. He began exploring places in Virginia which included The Covered Wagon, Tex-Mex, Key Hole Inn, Whitey's, and Royal Lee's Deli, in Arlington, Virginia; JVs Bar in Annandale, Virginia. the Thirsty Camel and Silver Saddle in Norfolk, Virginia; Tiffany Tavern and Cowboy Café South in Alexandria, Virginia, and the Coffee House of Occoquan in Occoquan, Virginia. It was during the 1980s that his trucking kicked in and expanded his range further south and west. The Newlon's were country music fans and fans of Mike, and made sure that a lot of his trucking trips covered places where he performed, and opened up new venues for him.
Heading south he performed at Cap'n Darrell's in Daytona Beach, Florida. The Bowery [former home-base for the ALABAMA Band] and JW's Lil Café in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Flyin' Dutchmann in Charleston, South Carolina. Johnny Horne's and Pappa Joe's in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he met Rooster, a popular Bourbon Street musician. Two appearances on the Country Boy Eddie Show on Channel-6 TV in Birmingham, Alabama when his truck blew its engine.
Texas included The Holiday
Terrace Motel in Killeen, Carmen's Bar in El Paso, and through his Texas
friends Ed and Barbara King, the Alvin Opry in Alvin, the Manvel Opry in
Manvel, the Pearland Orpy in Pearland, and an impromptu performance at the Cowboy Museum in San Antonio,
Texas, owned and operated by his colorful friend Jack Glover.
The 1860 Saloon in St. Louis, Missouri; The Michigan Jamboree in Hillsdale, Michigan; Suzie Rowles' Country Music Showcase in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and the Traditional Music Association Awards Show, Orrstown, Pennsylvania. The Eastern Shore Opry in Crisfield, Maryland and the John Henry Festival in Morgantown, West Virginia. Avoca's Old-Time Country Music Festivals in Avoca, Iowa, and Missouri Valley's Old-Time Country Music Festival in Missouri Valley, Iowa, to mention a select few, along with numerous truck stops and motel lobbies.
Mike joined ASCAP in 1982 and became a full writer member in December 1988. But after song registration and royalty disputes he switched to BMI in July 1994. As Mike's songs gained airplay he inquired about royalties and ASCAP suddenly dropped his membership claiming that they had no record of any of his songs being registered with them! Odd, since Mike has copies of all his stamped and approved ASCAP song registrations! In 1983 he produced "Mike Johnson's Guitar Songs Vol.1", a Cassette Album featuring solo performances on his Kingston guitar. This release also came with a lyric book with chord charts.
In June 1983 Mike formed Pata del Lobo Music Publishing and in 1985 released his 2nd 45rpm [left] under that banner with "Hooked On Rodeo & I Hear Her Words Ringing" two of the four songs from his first session at Champ Studio. Following Jim Stanton's advice, in June 1987 he formed Roughshod Records as his official country label, and You and Me Publishing, for his Gospel and non-country songs. He also formed You and Me Records for those non-country songs but the ones he recorded seemed to make their way over to Roughshod Records with a “country” twist. Mike has always published and produced his own music and has never been signed to, or recorded for, any label but his own.
"I got a lot of compliments and lip-service, but no one was willing to sign me, record, or produce any of my songs!"
should also be noted that Mike has never played guitar or any instrument on any
of his Nashville sessions. He'll very quickly tell you "I'm not a
musician. I'm a half-ass guitar strummer average singer, and a very good
Yodeler!" A proclamation that led to the writing of "I Never
Really Learned To Play Guitar," song #2 on his 1993 "Black Yodel
No.1" cassette album.
While he started out singing the country standards and yodeling songs like "T For Texas," "Cattle Call," "Sue City Sue" and "Back in the Saddle Again" Mike quickly realized that there were numerous combinations of these yodels that could become distinctly unique on their own. He began experimenting with non-yodel songs like "Jambalaya" which quickly became his signature song, "Oh Lonesome Me", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Waltz Across Texas", "Happy Trails", and others to test the possibilities.
This led to writing his own yodeling songs like "Just A Nobody"[18 Mar.71] "I Can Yodel Songs Like Them All!"[23 Jul.81] and "Your Old Lady,"[22 Feb.82] the latter, a crowd favorite at Royal Lee's Deli, and Whitey's in Arlington, Va. during the 1980s that demonstrated his uniqueness and ability to also handle a fast yodel. "Your Old Lady" is a yodel lesson story on how the yodel was born. He hasn't performed it since but has often threatened to re-learn the 5-minute song. While the song never made it on any of his commercial releases, in April 2007 it would be featured in his 4-disc 114 Yodel Song Archives that would be acquired by the Recorded Sound Reference Center at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
However, on his 1983 "Mike Johnson's Guitar Songs Vol.1" featuring a fledgling Mike Johnson, performing solo on his Kingston Electric Guitar, Mike states "When I listen to that album, my skin tingles and I realize just how far I've come! I'd sure like a word with the person that let that kid have a guitar and told'em he could sing?" Mike chuckles. "Yeah, we all had to start somewhere!"
Around February of 1983 Mike was with some friends at Michael's Country bar in Virginia Beach,Virginia. One of them slipped his business card into the tip-jar and the Lead Singer, misinterpreting the "Black Yodel No.1" on the card as a song, invited a startled Mike to the stage to sing it! Mike pretended he had a sore throat and promised that on his next visit he would. Knowing that he couldn't return to the popular night-spot without singing, on 1 April 1983, Mike wrote "Black Yodel No.1," his first wordless yodeling song! It would later be followed by other wordless yodel songs like "Coyote Yodel," "Wild Horse Yodel," and "Black Yodel No.2." These would vie for position with some of his other popular yodeling songs like, "The Yodel," "Yeah I'm A Cowboy," "Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven," "I Aim To Be the Best," "Hooked On Rodeo," and the ever-popular "T-Shirt Yodel." Of his 50 wordless "black yodel" songs, only No.1 and No.2 were deliberate. The rest were the result of not being able to come up with a good title. And yes, he did go back to Michael's not long afterwards and performed Black Yodel No.1 to a very receptive crowd.
Rolling On Down the Music Road
Mike's local popularity was at an all time high during the 1980s and his national base was growing. He was hanging out with the likes of Bob Ellis, Kenny Haddaway, Rick Franklin, and Mary Chapin Carpenter at a number of the local watering holes like Whitey's, The Deli, the Covered Wagon, and the Keyhole Inn, to mention a few. He knew Bill Kirchen, and a local singer-songwriter name Bill Monroe who also sang some of Mike's songs. With his 1986 "I Believe In Roy Rogers" cassette album being sold in nearly a dozen Union-76 truck stops from Alabama and Louisiana to Chicago, Mike Johnson was on a music roll!
Quickly overwhelmed by his busy trucking schedules, neglected art, literary, and photographic projects, Mike dropped out of the performing circuit in September of 1987 and went on a songwriting spree. He returned to the stage in April 1993 with more than 600 new songs and released the Cassette Album, "Black Yodel No. 1, The Song the Songwriter" in September of that year.
In 1994, Mike’s ballad "Did You Hug Your Mother Today?" from a same-titled 1987 Cassette Album became his first radio hit. It was the most listener-requested song, playing for three weeks surrounding Mother's Day on Big John Baldry's Michigan Jamboree Radio Show, WBYW-FM 89.9. Big John phoned Mike and sent him a postcard telling him "I can't even have a show! Every time I play it I get calls and they wanna hear it again..." A direct result was the song being picked up by DJ Trudy Burke and becoming a consistent year-round player for several years on her "Make Mine Country" 88.9FM Radio Show in Melbourne/Victoria, Australia.
John Baldry hosted the 1994 First Annual Michigan Jamboree for Independent
Country performers at the Sugarbush Campground in Hillsdale, Michigan. Owners Kenny and
Sharon Sherrill provided the campground. Kenny's band, "The Country
Kin" also provided backup for the solo artists. Mike drove his
Newlon rig up to the Jamboree because he had a shipment to deliver not
too far from there following the weekend event. During that busy weekend he met
Ed & Ellie, Singin' Bill Winter, and Johnny "J" Johnston, for
whom the Nevada town was named after his song "Puckerbrush."
The 1990's opened more doors for Mike. A resurgence of popularity on the home front came with meeting more local musicians like Rocky Guttmann, Jeff Seidel, Raccoon, Alan Byrd, Brenda Weitzel, Bill Gibson, Ken Smith, and Al and Starr. Up in Pennsylvania he met the one and only Suzie Rowles and performed on her Country Music Showcase.
In 1997 Suzie's Show hosted the Traditional Music Awards and Mike got to meet and rub shoulders with the original Oscar Sullivan of the Lonzo & Oscar duo. And he got a delighted Oscar to autograph one of his Lonzo & Oscar albums that he had purchased in the 1960s! There is a video of this show available and Mike's interview with Oscar. It was at Suzie's Country Showcase on 27 July 1998 at the Capitol Theater in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, that Mike's mother, Margaret Johnson, saw him perform on stage for her very first, and sadly, last time.
on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Mike became a member of the Pat Costello
Family's Eastern Shore Opry. [Pat, Patrick, and Trudy Costello] He performed
at the 20 April 1996 Show and met the Ray Lewis house band, Blue Daze, and the
Larry Stephenson band. Also at that show was Rhinestone Rooster recording
artist, Lonnie Lynn LaCour, a longtime friend of "Cousin
Ray" Woolfenden, the famous traditional country music DJ from Dumfries,
Virginia. When Mike was a teenager working at one of the summer camps in
Triangle, Virginia in the late 1950s he listened to Cousin Ray's shows [only
local broadcast] and got to meet him. Both Lonnie Lynn and Mike [many years
later] were members of Cousin Ray's C.E.M.B.A. group, and had performed at
several of their local music events.
Mike was selected to M/C the 14 September 1996 Eastern Shore Opry Show, where he met the headliner, Charlie Sizemore, and John Donaldson and his Low Profile band. His friends, Terry Smith, the second featured act, and Lonnie Lynn LaCour also performed on this Show.
south of Houston, Texas Mike met and became friends with Ed King and Barbara
Dunn in Santa Fe, Texas. They own the Entertainment News music magazine and
BJD Wishing Away Records, a radio compilation CD label. A constant weekend
guest at their home when traveling through Houston, Mike was introduced to
several of the Oprys, including Pam's kitchen, along Texas Route-6. The Alvin
and Manvel Oprys where he met and became friends with Smokey Stover,
Richard Garza, Ron Eldred, Tim McCoy, and the Ron and Linda Cook band.
Even though he was a paid subscriber, he was the only one who provided some up
front seed money for Mike's fledgling publication.
Up north of Houston in Huntsville, Texas he met and became good friends with PJ Price and her family in Huntsville, Texas. PJ was the hottest voice on Independent Country radio during the 1990s until family matters demanded her attention. Mike states that the world lost a great artist when she quit. They have always kept in touch even after Mike quit trucking. She was also one of those friends who rallied to help Mike after his neck injury.
"The greatest news I got was when she called me this past October 2006 to say that she was going back into the studio!" Mike says. "Take Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Reba McIntire and mix them in a blender and you've got PJ Price, a super version of Brenda Lee! When PJ sings, she owns the song and she owns you! I'm so glad she's back into her music!"
During the mid-1990s Virgie Warren of Flushing Michigan, a virtual "Who's Who" in Country Music was also responsible for some of Mike's expanded exposure through her Bluebird Country News and articles that she wrote for Ralph Compton's Hard Country Beat magazine and Rural Music News. This busy individual had Mike appearing in little independent publications that he never knew existed, including the April 1997 issue of a non-music Flint, Michigan magazine called "The Forum."
In February 1998, after performing at the Ranch House Restaurant with Terry Smith, Mike was introduced to Joe Country, the Caribbean American Cowboy from Grenada. They've been friends since, and Mike has done a number of small projects for Joe, including getting him a spot on the Jimmy Kimmel TV Show's comedy sketch, "The Search for America's Greatest Black Yodeler" in 2007. The Kimmel Show Execs had contacted Mike expressing their excitement that there were Black Yodelers and asked if he'd like to participate in a yodeling spoof on their show. He turned down the offer because he didn't want his yodeling status and craft portrayed in a comedic and negative light. In response to their request for Black Yodelers who might be interested he gave them contact information for his friends, McDonald Craig and Joe Country. He then called Mac and Joe told them to expect a call so that they would know it wasn't a hoax.
Mike had had a questionable experience with the Steve Harvey TV Show a couple of years earlier. The execs wanted him to teach Steve Harvey how to yodel on a country music themed show they were developing. In response to their request for some background material, they were sent Mike's music biography, the "Black Yodel No.1" CD, and the "Mike Johnson Live!" video, which included his Hall of Fame Induction. After about three weeks preparing releases and travel arrangements [Mike does not fly] the production execs called Mike to question his "country credentials!" The next day they called to postpone his appearance because they had a "scat singer" scheduled they didn't want two performers doing the same thing? The following week Randy Travis appeared as Steve Harvey's country music guest! In response to a possible future appearance, Mike politely told them don't call him and he won't call them. Undaunted by this, Mike continued business as usual. Early on he had learned not to jump on every appearance opportunity offered to him, especially if the venue was not a country music one.
In December 1998, while in New Orleans, Mike met Ian Hoyle, a promising young Jazz Musician with great finger-picking versatility. The two teamed up for several months and Ian worked for Mike on his truck runs. In between they played some local gigs before a family emergency called Ian back home to the mid-west. For the past several years Ian has been working as a session musician and finally relocated to Phoenix, Arizona in April 2007.
In 1999 Mike re-mastered his "Black Yodel No.1" Cassette and released it as his first CD. The last week in August 1999 Mike took a vacation from his trucking schedule went to the week-long Avoca Old Time Country Music Festival in Avoca, Iowa, where he met Sonny Rodgers, a Second Cousin and the last living relative of Jimmie Rodgers, "The Blue Yodeler." Mike participated in Sonny's 1999 and 2000 Yodelers' Paradise Shows, and would drop in on his new friend whenever his trucking runs took him through Columbia, South Carolina. He was also among the last people to see Sonny alive before he passed away on 1 July 2001.
It was also during this period from 1999 to 2003 that Mike met and became friends with a number of world famous Yodelers at the Avoca Old Time Country Music Festivals held annually in Avoca, Iowa. Most of them them were friends of Sonny Rodgers and performed on many of the Yodelers Paradise Shows that he hosted at different festivals around the country. McDonald Craig, Tom Wills, Janet McBride, Buzz Geortzen, Joyce Leonard, Roy Harper, the Hammer Sisters, Rick McWilliams, Stew & Juanita Clayton, Chris Schurmann, Greta Elkins, and Ben Steneker, to mention a select few. Also at Avoca, he finally got to meet his long time yodeling pen-pal, Donna Hyland from Michigan, and Lou Stebner from Tucson, Arizona. Lou was also a subscriber and a ardent supporter of Mike's Top-Rail Chatter magazine. In 2003, the Avoca Festival moved to Missouri Valley Iowa, where Mike got to meet Jett Williams, the daughter of Hank Williams, Sr. On Sunday, the last day of the festival, Jett and her father, along with several others, were inducted into the Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame. She also gave a very rousing performance to a highly enthusiastic crowd of traditional country music lovers. Juggling several cameras and jockeying for position with other photographers, Mike also captured Jett's Hall of Fame Induction and performance on his camcorder.
Over the years, Mike has been a member of a number of singer-songwriter groups, including The Country Entertainers & Musicians Benevolent Association [C.E.M.B.A.], The Eastern Shore Opry, The Songwriters Guild, Louisiana Songwriter's Association, The Tennessee Songwriters Association, The Traditional Music Association, The Black Country Music Association, and is still a member of The National Traditional Country Music Association. In April 1996 he was commissioned by the Governor of the State of Kentucky as a Honorary Kentucky Colonel.
In late November 2003 everything came to a sudden halt when three of his neck vertebrae, C-3, C-4, and C-5, collapsed on his spinal cord. He and a helper were carrying a dresser out to the trailer he suddenly collapsed and went unconscious briefly. He lost his balance, his hand & finger dexterity, and virtual control of his bladder and bowel movements. He first went to a local NOVA Hospital and they misdiagnosed him, telling him that he had arthritis and gave him a bottle of pain pills and sent him on his way. When he asked them why he kept falling down and couldn't control any of his body functions they told him they didn't know, that he should go see a specialist! After a week of stumbling around his home both he and his friend Roy Jobber decided that his condition was serious and on 12 December 2003 Roy took him to the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Washington DC. The Emergency Room Tech got it right and called Neurology who re-examined him and immediately checked him into the neurology ward. He was treated under the care and supervision of Dr. Sandbrink and underwent surgery in January 2004 at the Veterans Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. On 27 September 2004, Mike's mother died at the age of 75, following a two-year bout with brain tumors.
During the early stages of almost two years of immobility and rehabilitation, he sold half of his 16 guitars, thinking that he would never play again. Then his stubborn determination and to be bed-ridden kicked in and he began showing physical signs of improvement. Warned by his Neurologists that his nerve damage will repair at it's own pace and not his, he learned to proceed at a less stressful pace gradually building up his strength and in the end surprising his doctors with an unexpected 89% recovery.
On the 5th of January 2005, Mike received a surprise email from Bart Plantenga, author of the 2004 Best Seller "Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo, The Secret History of Yodeling Around The World," [ISBN-0-415-93990-9].
It read in part; "Dear Mike Johnson. I just came across some of your bio material at a web page. I recently published the first book ever on the world of yodeling. I am currently working on a series of cd yodeling and working on a 2nd book on yodeling. It will hopefully expand on issues and details barely touched upon in the first book plus include people I had to edit out or had not been exposed to like [you]. I am looking for profiles of interesting yodelers. I am also a radio dj in Amsterdam [I used to dj in NY and Paris] and I play almost any type of music but often feature yodeling. I have in fact produced about 6 programs exclusively on yodeling. I hope to hear back from you and hope you will find it interesting enough to send me some of your yodeling on CD for airplay in Amsterdam..."
Mike's collection of 8 short stories, "El Latigo, A Little Known Legend Of The Tijuana Jail and Other Stories" was published in July 2006.
2007 was a busier production year. His ultimate yodeling album "Mike Johnson Yodeling 40 Years" a 2-disc, 50-song CD kicked things off. Then the "Frank Hunter, The Lonesome Yodeler" CD followed in the Special Project category. The tribute release, "To Monna, The Rose of My Heart" CD contains 5 songs written by the Michigan Jamboree's famous Big John Baldry to his wife. It also includes two songs written about Big John by singer-songwriter Ray Jones who sang all of the songs on the album.
In February 2008 Guitar Songs Vol. 5 "Bad Whiskey, Bad Sex, and Bad Men" [RCD28-0208] was released. Mike returned to his favorite type of songs; beer-drinking, down-and-out, cheatin' heart songs. No yodeling songs here, but there are some blues favored ones and a hint of rock and roll swirling around!
The end of March 2008 saw the recording and release of his first audio book, "Reflections." He readily admits that the Public Speaking Merit Badge was his most difficult one in the Boy Scouts! And he sings? Mike has wanted to do this many times over the years, but you know how that is, something else always pops up. Being retired from trucking and with lots of time, he decided to give it a serious shot. So he pulled out a printed edition and read and re-read it aloud for a week before recording it.
Guitar Songs Vol.6 "Plain Old Yodeling" [RCD29-070801] and Guitar Songs Vol.7, "Silly & Sentimental Songs" [RCD30-070802] soon followed. After 27 years, "Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin" [RCD31-S070803] debuted as the title song on a CD single with "Snakes Don't Sleep On A Hot Rock" on Track No.2. Charmin was first released in 1981 on the flip side of his 45-rpm single "King of the Fish." As a special bonus, this new release also includes the sound tracks and the lyrics to both songs.
In February 2009 DJ Rowena Muldavin began spinning Mike's music on her California radio show "All Things Country." The Library of Congress Mike Johnson collection is still expanding. In July 2009, Official Pat Baughman, of the Library's Recording Arts Reading Room Reference section accepted a copy of the 22-song "Mike Johnson Folio" for their reference collection. This Folio of sheet music scores also contains the talents of the late Johnny Meyer, known in his hey-day as "The Singing Postman" who composed new music for 11 of Mike's previously composed songs. Meyer also owned and operated Jupiter Records. Mike got to meet Meyer's wife and daughter while on a trucking trip to Michigan. Unfortunately, Johnny had already passed away.
The Everharts came to Virginia in December 2009. Following their week-long LeMars Music festival in Iowa, Bob Everhart, founder of the long-standing  National Traditional Country Music Association, and his wife and daughter, Sheila and Bobbie Lhea, respectively, usually take a winter break and tour the US, Mexico, Europe, or some other earthly place to spread traditional American music.
When Everhart's arrived at Cherry Hill Campground in College Park, Maryland around the 3rd of December the weather was a miserable mixture of cold, rain, and snow. Mike took the brave trio on a brief tour of Arlington Cemetery and to his home where they got to see Mike's Command Center for all of his art, literature, music, photography and video projects. It had been originally planned for them to visit Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington DC for some Soul Food but the weather kept its ugly head reared so Mike treated them to lunch at Flavors a local Soul Food establishment in Arlington Virginia. On Saturday night 5 December 2009, Bob and Shelia did a small gig at the Occoquan Coffee House in Occoquan Virginia, owned by Mike's friend Linda Caldwell. The crowd, though sparse because of the extremely cold weather, received them with great enthusiasm. A couple of Mike's music friends were also in attendance. Dave Canfield was coaxed into showing off his fine finger-picking skills and Brenda Weitzel performed the closing song. Floyd Harrison, publisher of the Lorton Valley Star, was on hand to photograph and take notes for his publication and on a brisk and chilly Sunday morning, Mike came down to say good-bye and escort them in the right direction south for their premiere performance on the ?Tribute to Ted Mack? show in Miami Florida. Later, Mike sent them a DVD production of their performance and even posted some of it on his YouTube site.
During his neck injury recovery period [2003-2005] Mike listened to numerous old recordings of some of his live performances during the 1980s, including a couple from 1979. From them sprang five "Mike Johnson Live!" CD releases which expanded his "Mike Johnson's Guitar Song Acoustic Series" to twelve, starting in February 2010 with "Looking Back to 1983 Mike Johnson & Freddy the Swedish Fiddler." [RCD36-022010] Freddie was part of a music exchange program that was visiting the Nation's Capitol. They met at Ardis Music Shop, owned by Mike's friend, Joe Capalbi. This was followed by "Mike Johnson Live! at the Songsmith." [RCD37-022010] This 1979 performance was held at The Songsmith, a songwriter's showcase venue that was held in the house that Joe Bryant, a former elementary school friend and Boy Scout companion grew up in during the 1950/60s. Those houses on the 7th Street side, next to Washington DC's Eastern Market, had been bought by developers and turned into shops and stores.
"Mike Johnson Live! at Whiteys" [RCD38-032010] "Mike Johnson Live! at Royal Lee?s Deli" [RCD39-032010] -Arlington Virginia, and "Mike Johnson Live! at the Tucson Cafe & Southwest Tavern" [RCD40-032010] -Washington DC, came from a string of early 1980 performances he had taped, run by his old musician friend Bob Ellis. These new releases gave Mike a total of 40 Roughshod Records CD releases in March 2010.
The year 2010 also saw the debut of Mike's "Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin? and "If This Old Tree Could Talk" as digital download Singles on CD Baby. Mike returned to the week-long LeMars Old Time Country Music Festival in August 2010, where he met, among others, renowned DJ Smokey Smith, Cindy Cash [Johnny Cash's daughter], Sean Benz, the Rhythm Masters Jerry Roberts & Chan Miles, and yodelers Lonesome Ron Affolter, Naomi Bristol, and Kerry Christensen, among others. Old music friends Ben Steneker, Stew Clayton, Larry Harms and Gordon Wilcox were back.
On 29 May 2011, Bart Plantenga sent Mike a 'photographic rights' request to use a number of yodelers' photographs that Mike had taken, to use in his forthcoming follow-up yodeling book, "Yodel In HiFi." This was accompanied by an official notice that stated in part; "YODEL IN HI-FI" just unanimously passed the peer review process and we can begin preparing the booked for publication. The University of Wisconsin Press will be publishing my book, Yodel In Hi-Fi, with publication projected for spring 2012. I would like to include in this book the following material in which I believe you control the rights..."
Mike and his yodeling friend McDonald Craig will be featured in the Black Cowboys and Yodelers section. Mike has been an ongoing subject of, and involved in, a number of Bart's yodeling projects since they met in 2005. Subsequent communications revealed that the book will be published in two volumes!
Back in 2006 Bart began formulating a movie documentary entitled "Drive-By Yodeling" for which Mike supplied a wealth requested video performances and truck driving sequences. The project was temporarily scrapped because of conflicts with the producer's concepts. As of early 2011 the project was back on, this time with Bart Plantenga and his friend Mark Boswell producing.
In October 2010, Mike and the rest of world-wide movie Tarzan fans were sadden by the passing of Johnny Sheffield who played Boy in Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan films, and more recently by the passing of Cheeta in December 2011. On 15 December Magnus Talib of the Swedish TV6 reality show contacted Mike attempting to interest him in participating in their "99 Things to Do Before You Die" TV show and allow their hosts Erik and Mackan to hangout with him for a day and learn how to yodel. Unfortunately they had confused the two cities of Arlington and Mike, not able to get away at the time, referred them to his yodeling friend Janet McBride in Fort Worth Texas, closer to the Arlington they were going to.
Mike's life continues to be a work-in-progress, revising and completing old projects and creating on new ones. The year 2011 proved to be a busy one full of old and new projects. Though he intentionally didn't do too much local performing and missed out on the 2011 LeMars Festival, it was a small concession compared with the mission at hand. One of the most important one's being the ongoing Library of Congress Mike Johnson video project. And on a sad note, two of his music friends passed away. Wade Mainer, often referred to as the Grandfather of Bluegrass, at the age of 104, and Geneva Sullivan, widow of Oscar Sullivan, of the Grand Ole Opry duo Oscar and Lonzo.
In June 2011 Mike received this email notice from Duncan Baker stating in part; "I am the owner of Sounds Essential Music, a music publishing business with a registered office in the United Kingdom and staff in New York, which seeks to secure outstanding monies generated through the replication, public performance, broadcasting and/or paid subscription service of copyrighted compositions in the United Kingdom. I recently came across some works and discovered through research that there are opportunities for you/the copyright holder of the composition to collect revenues earned within the United Kingdom...?
Baker was referring to the World Music Network "Rough Guide to Yodel" CD release containing Mike's song "Yeah I'm a Cowboy." There had been problems securing royalties from that label and though the CD featuring 18 different yodelers was terminated only two years after its release, physical copies were still selling in brick & mortar stores throughout Europe as well as online, both as physical copies and as digital downloads. Not quick to swallow any bait, Mike first did some investigating to see if Sounds Essential was legit, and after substantial frustrating attempts to locate anyone who had ever heard of the outfit, Mike contacted the MCPS in the United Kingdom. Their data base revealed that Sounds Essential has been a registered small publisher member since March 2006 and was indeed authorized to collect mechanical royalties. For a 25% fee, that is. Mike turned down Duncan's offer and joined the MCPS and licensed his song with them in August 2011. MCPS [Mechanical Copyright Protection Society] is a United Kingdom performing rights society similar to BMI and ASCAP in the US. They have the authority to collect up to seven years back royalties for any music that is released by a publisher or record label in the United Kingdom. In October 2011 MCPS informed Mike that their processing was complete and that they were sending the World Music Network an invoice for back royalties due!
In 2011 a number of things transpired. In February 2011 Mike's music began receiving spins from DJ Julie Matheson of Icarna Radio Station in Australia. In July Mike rejoined Sound Exchange, a royalty collection agency authorized to collect royalties from digital radio streaming and broadcasting sites, for performers and copyright owners. They have a listing of at least 20 of his song receiving radio airplay. In June Mike and thousands of BMI members received their first royalty checks from the newly launched [December 2010] BMI Live! program. This was a very, very long overdue program that FINALLY got around to actually paying BMI songwriter-performers royalties from the License Fees that they have been collecting from live music venues for decades! This money had always been used to fund other BMI projects. He was also very impressed by the per-song payout rates. In July, Mike managed to draw Bob Ellis out of a 20 year performance hiatus, for the first of a several performances at a couple of local Northern Virginia venues. Simply put, Bob hasn't lost his touch! Bill Gibson, another of Mike?s music friend's performed and posted a version of Mike's song "I Never Learned To Play Guitar? on his own Youtube site. Bill is a very gifted musician who hosted a number of local musical events, including a long-running tenure a Open Mic host at Tiffany Tavern in Old Town Alexandria.
The first phase of his Library of Congress video project was finally completed in December 2011. Sixteen  Mike Johnson Live! Special Edition DVDs featuring Mike Johnson performances were delivered to Recorded Sound Reference Center Official Janet McKee, who forwarded them to their Motion Picture & Television Broadcasting Division for cataloging and inclusion in their Moving Images collection. This is an ongoing follow-up to the Library's initial desire to obtain yodeling songs and music by an African American country singer and performer.
The series starts with the second earliest video of Mike performing at the 1994 Michigan Jamboree in Hillsdale, Michigan shot by Johnny "J" Johnston of Sparta Michigan. The first know video of Mike occurred in 1982 on the Country Boy Eddie TV Show Channel 6 in Birmingham Alabama. Years of attempts to obtain that footage have gone unanswered.
The remaining videos of this first batch span a period from 1996 to 1999 in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, concluding with Mike's 2002 Hall of Fame Induction in Iowa and his 2005 participation at Bart Plantenga's "9 Weird Stories About Yodeling" lecture in New York. One of the videos that we thought had been lost or accidentally erased contains the only footage of one of Mike's impromptu performances at our friend Jack Glover's Cowboy Museum, in San Antonio Texas on 15 August 1999. Imagine our surprise when we discovered it! The next phase will be the Nashville footage, then following that, local Virginia performances, and other odd-ball stuff.
Mike reformatted and updated his discography book, and began adding to his official music biography beyond the 45-page 8" x 11" edition that the Library of Congress has in it collection, with more details and more photographs in store. The 2009 edition of his paperback novel "A Real Live Country Song" [about a hitch-hikin' yodeling cowboy] was also reformatted for eBook distribution by Book Baby, a CD Baby affiliate. This was deliberately intended to be sort of a companion piece to Plantenga's forthcoming second book on the history of yodeling, "Yodel In Hi-Fi." He ended December 2011 with the posting of his song "A Tit is a Tit is a Tit" and started January 2012 with the posting of 9 Mike Johnson songs, one of them the "Dog Pound Yodel" scheduled for release on one of Bart Plantenga's forthcoming yodeling CD projects.
On 24 January 2012 BookBaby began distribution of the ebook version of "A Real Live Country Song" and it's currently available on the following sites; Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, Sony, Copia, and Apple iTunes, among others.
A very interesting thing also happened in January just before BookBaby began distributing the new ebook. While surfing the net to see where his book was being posted, he ran across a rather curious listing on Amazon.com for "The Leopard?s Cub" as a collector's item with a $100.oo price tag! The site even contained a picture of the original 1979 cover! Hmm, that's not possible he thought. But the more he looked at it the more curious he became. So he contacted the seller and to his surprise, the person lived in Washington DC, just across the river, and was doing business as BAB Books. He asked for a detailed description of the book and it definitely fit. Mike mentioned that he knew the author and they exchanged phone numbers. Mike called and a woman answered and told him that she was a private collector and wanted to know if the author was still alive and how well Mike knew him. "Very well" she was told and he asked her about the autograph on the title page. She stated that it was just a signature and not to anyone specific. From that Mike knew that it was just one of the regular sale copies and not a specially autographed one he had given to a few key individuals who had contributed to the book. He then asked if he could see the copy in person and they arranged a meeting.
Unfortunately we don't remember her name, but I'm sure it's around here somewhere. And to Mike's surprise she lived in a nice house in a quiet upper North West neighborhood not far from an uncle. Mike also made sure that he got a picture of him holding the book. You should have seen the surprised look on her face when she realized that Mike was the author after he gave her a specially prepared poster with photos of him in 1979 holding the very first copies he had just finished binding. Mike personally bound and sold 300 hard bound copies and vowed to never to do that again. That was a lot of work and the subsequent issues would be paperback! He even showed her the recently finished pre-publication copy of "What The Jungle Saw" and told her it would be ready sometime over the summer. She was elated and wanted to know if Mike wanted her copy. No thanks, he still had the first copy, and the original printing formats.
In February 2012, Mike finished the final proof reading on the long, awaited novel "What the Jungle Saw" the sequel to "The Leopard's Cub." Completed in 1980 but never published, this action packed emotionally charged adventure continues the saga of the leopard boy as he bonds with his American cousins, grieves over the death of the leopard mother who raised him, and sets out on the trail of the poachers who killed her to exact his bloody revenge. You think life in this jungle is rough, wait until the final edit of "Deadly Vengeance" the third sequel is done! You might have to sleep with the lights on clutching a Holland & Holland .500 Nitro Express! A little known fact is that it didn't take more than a month to write either of these works. Once he gets an idea things flow right along and he writes until the idea is exhausted. And his approach was different. He says he treated it like a movie he'd want to see! I've read it, and it's one helluva ride!
However, he shelved it for awhile to tend to some pressing matters and then returned to it to complete the cover designs and formatting. "What the Jungle Saw" was published in September 2012, much to Mike's delight. It was long overdue and he plans to have it published as an ebook in 2013. If only he can keep from getting distracted. Again!
Things were rolling right along with Mike making some good headway with his projects and stepping out on several occasions to listen to some of his music friends and jam a little. In April Mike was invited by his friend Jeff Seidel to be the opening act for several shows for his Hobos band at the Epicure Café in Fairfax Virginia.
Jeff was usually accompanied by his fiancée, Wendy who also subbed as photographer with Mike's camera. Mike and Jeff treated the folks to their usual antics. Fellow musician Rocky Guttmann and Mary Ann showed up on Mike's 6 June opener. It had been awhile since they had seen each other because of their schedules and this was a good opportunity to get out. Rocky and Mary also took turns as photographers with Mike's camera while the camcorder ran on a table top tripod. Rocky, the "Entertainer" is the busiest solo musician in the Northern Virginia area, and he's booked for months on end regularly, so spare time for him is a rare commodity.
In the interim, Mike became distracted from his written biography. Not unusual, because every time he looks at his book cases or into one of the file cabinets, he finds something else that needs attention! Well, he really wasn't in a writing mood and he suddenly got the strange notion that maybe it would be easier if he pulled out some of the magazine articles and music reviews of him and used them to help put things into perspective and chronological order. Well, why in blazes did he do that! Very soon the written biography was forgotten and the material gathering project took on a life of its own! He was first amazed and soon overwhelmed by the volume of material, and equally so by the fact that he had actually kept them!
In Mike's own words, here's what happened. "Well, it started off simple enough. I started with the formatted pages in my updated discography which contained images of my first demos, 45s, cassettes, CDs and music books. Then I scanned the articles and reviews in Ed King's "Country Western Corner" and Allen Foster's "Songwriters Monthly." This was gonna be easy I thought. I'll wrap this up in no time. Then I saw Virgie Warren's "Blue Bird Country News" and Bob Everharts "Tradition" magazines! After a couple days of scanning I was having second thoughts, but by now I had dubbed the project "Mike Johnson's Music Anthology" and vowed I'd have to see this through. I gave it a rest for a couple of days and went back to the bookcase and started pulling out things! Wow, I had no idea!
After a week or so the project was renamed "Music, Magazines, Videos, and Reviews." I had added the covers of the 16 "Mike Johnson Live!" DVDs that were also in the discography and the Library of Congress' Moving Images collection. Then I discovered more magazines and newsletters. The late Ralph Compton's "Hard Country Beat" and Norb Payne's "Country Illustrated", PJ Price's "Country Tradition" and Grand Old Opry Oscar Sullivan's newsletter, to mention a few. Well, why not add some old flyers, posters, and portraits. Okay, and while I'm at it why not include some music awards, certificates, etc. This led the title to be changed to "I Only Wanted To Be A Songwriter."
Whew! I was really wondering when and where this thing would end because I had now exceeded 120 pages! Then I saw Terry Smith's "Terry Smith & Friends" newsletters, the late Wild Bill Halbert's "Caring & Sharing" magazine, and suddenly decided, hell, why not include my Top-Rail Chatter Magazine. So I added the covers of all 28 issues and two random pages from each issue. I was kinda glad I did, because right after my mom died in 2004 I had started a commemorative issue that got sidetracked and I thought this would help get me in the mood to finish it up with all the things that had occurred in between. Well, I'm still working on that. But I did revisit the radio playlist matter and thought that it wouldn't be fair if I didn't include some of them. After all I'd been getting some good airplay for the past 15 years until my neck vertebrae collapsed and I had to drop out of the music scene for several years. I scanned the best copies I had and decided I had to try and wrap this puppy up. The spine was a full inch thick and the book, heavy! I knew I was finished, after a few more tidbits but something kept nagging at me. By chance I flipped through my discography book to see if I'd forgotten something and low and below, I had. My songs on other people's CDs, and my music books.
Then I discovered the missing link! I've often been asked how my 'singing and yodeling career' and my reply was and still is, I just wanted to be a songwriter! And thus the official title, "I Just Wanted To Be A Songwriter, a Mike Johnson Music Anthology." One of the criteria for registering the ISBN number is the book's dimensions and weight. Two pounds and seven ounces! In January I created a PDF version on DVD for those not willing to shell out close to $40.oo for the printed version which is currently print-on-demand. I'm still searching for a cost effective printer with lower price rates.
A good distraction surfaced around April of 2012 when a young guitar picker name James Adelsberger showed up at one of the local Saturday night jams at the Coffee House of Occoquan in Occoquan, Va. His musical versatility immediately struck a chord with everyone, and they marveled at how easily he adapted to their different musical styles. Encouraged by this, he continued to stop in whenever his busy schedule allowed, and on a whim, a couple of months later, Mike asked him if he'd be interested in creating some tracks for a couple of his songs. He agreed and was given a two song demo and several of Mike?s CDs so that he could get a feel for his style. In Mike?s own words, "That was one of the best whims I've had in a long time!"
There are people who love to play music, and there are people who have to play music. James Adelsberger is the latter. He lives and breathes music! It's in his blood! This multi-talented musician is a high school senior and a very active concert percussionist and jazz drummer in his school?s band program. He's also a member of two local bands, plays the piano, guitar, mandolin, and composes classical and jazz music.
Mike was amazed at how he captured the feelings in the songs that would be on Roughshod Records 41st CD. "Livin? Lost Love on the Jukebox Again" backed with "The Heartaches Are Callin?" on track two, the latter also a yodeling song.
While preparing a couple more songs for James to create tracks for, Mike offered to produce him on his own CD, but that they had to be Mike Johnson songs. James accepted and Mike gave him more music to listen to and pick from. However, he and his father, Bernard, were told that if it appeared that this was distracting him from his home and school priorities that he would suspend the project until he had more time. With all in agreement, James picked a couple of songs, "Me And My Sad Self" and "Or You Can Tell Her That You're Sorry" two beer drinking songs from Mike's Guitar Songs Vol. 5 Acoustic Series "Bad Whiskey, Bad Sex, and Bad Men" CD. They proved to be a little too much for him and he asked to change songs. Not wanting to add to the pressure cooker and definitely not wanting lose such a talented musician, Mike agreed. From Guitar Songs Vol.4 "You Never Got To Sing My Songs" [a tribute to Roger Miller] James picked "Back Home Again" and "The Holy River." These were much more within his vocal range, but as with any newcomer, James again began delivering every voice under the sun except his own. So Mike stepped in and began offering him pointers as well as assuring him that singing doesn't always come natural to everyone. Most of us have to work at it.
Eventually, Mike solicited some feedback from some of his talented music friends, and we'd like to again thank you for your valuable input. Peter Annemiek [DePlayer Magazine, Netherlands] * Trudy Burke [DJ Make Mine Country Radio, Australia] * Sharon Cotton [Recording studio owner, California & daughter of yodeling Carolina Cotton] * Joe Country [the Caribbean Cowboy, New York] * Bob Ellis [Singer] * Bob Everhart [President of National Traditional Country Music Association, Iowa] * Rick Franklin [Piedmont Blues Musician, Virginia] * Bill Gibson [Singer, Maryland] * Buzz Goertzen [the Idaho Yodeler, Idaho] * Rocky Guttmann [Singer, Virginia] * Paul Lawrence [Lawrence Record Shop, Nashville] * Janet McBride [the Yodeling Queen, Texas] * John Miner [Music researcher, Kentucky] * Betty Preston [Mike Preston's former manager, New Hampshire] * PJ Price [Singer-Songwriter] * Dave Sichak [Music researcher, California] * Bill "Two Dogs" Thorne [Singer-songwriter, Tennessee] * Judy Welden [Singer-songwriter, Georgia].
Sometimes young'uns can be a little head-strong [weren't most of us at that age?] and tend to take the Sensei lightly. ["wax on - wax off" ] Your outside dose of music reality helped bring him back down to earth and made it a little easier for Mike to achieve what he was after. His natural voice and vocal consistency.
James took the critiques very well and went at it again, only this time with Mike pulling some of his creative juices and reining him in to rehearsing with the demo versions of each song from scratch to master. After about six months under some very extenuating circumstances, [school, chores, orchestra shows, two bands, and college auditions] Roughshod Records 42nd CD "Back Home Again" backed with "The Holy River" was born!
Mike had also been anxiously awaiting his copy of Bart Plantenga's "Yodel In HiFi" his second book on the global history of yodeling. The University of Wisconsin Press had set back the spring publish date to September and almost ran into a snag. Bart sent Mike some last minute 'rights requests' to use several photos of yodelers he had taken, and he was feverishly trying to wrap up the book's index. He also asked for an update on Mike's P.O. Box address and ended up sending the book to the outdated one anyway. When Bart rechecked and discovered his mistake, he had the publisher send Mike another copy to his home address. Both of them were sure the book would be returned to the sender, which as Mike would find out, was actually sent by the publisher and not Bart. Publishers usually give their writers complimentary copies to give to friends and contributors, etc. They probably did send him some for his Netherlands people, and used a list supplied by him for us in the US. That makes sense. The first book arrived on 26 December 2012, just in time for Mike to include page 30, half of his profile, on the last page of his anthology, print, and hand deliver the deposit copies to the Copyright Office. The second one came in January 2013 and now Mike has two copies. One for the shelf and one to show off!
"I Just Wanted To Be A Songwriter, a Mike Johnson Music Anthology" is 390-page visual presentation of nearly everything from 1980 to December 2012 [except from the internet] that has ever been printed, published, produced, and distributed by, and about, Mike Johnson and his music. Loaded with images and details of 45rpms, cassettes, CDs, and music books, along with some old portraits, flyers, and posters sandwiched between awards, certificates, radio playlists, the covers of all 28 issues of his Top-Rail Chatter Independent Country Music magazine along with two pages from each issue, they pave the way to 274 pages of articles, contributions and music reviews. You not only get to read about Mike Johnson, you also get to know scores of other music folk sharing page space with him in most of the publications, as well as a unique view of what was happening on the independent country music circuit during a given period because each page is identified by the publication's name, date, edition, and city of origin. We live just across the river and Mike has always hand delivered his copyrights since 1977. This way he gets his Copyright Certificate back sooner. In fact, his Certificate arrived on 14 February 2013.
In December 2012 James informed Mike that he'd received a letter of acceptance from Belmont University on Nashville's Music Row where he wants to become, "the best all-around musician possible..." He's graduating in June 2013 and keeping his options open for now, but when he does decide we have no doubt that he'll become a very notable and sought after musician. We're very proud to be a part of this young man's growing music career.
Towards the tail end of December Mike got an email from Mary Wedgewood at the Library of Congress informing him that their system was now set up to join the rest of the world in distributing and registering ISMN numbers. She needed some test subjects and wanted him and several others to try out the format and provide some feedback on how it worked. Mary had been working on this most of 2012, and had been trying to convince her superiors that there were still flaws in the system. With feedback from Mike and number of others that she'd been working with, she worked tirelessly and finally sorted it out.
On 7 January 2013 Mike returned to the Library of Congress, but this time to the Performing Arts Reading Room to meet with three Library of Congress officials who were anxiously awaiting his new anthology. Janet McKee started the ball rolling back in 2007 when she acquired 114 of Mike's yodeling songs. Patricia Baughman acquired Mike's music books for their Reading Room, and Mary Wedgewood, in charge of acquisitions and processing and head of the Library's new ISMN Department. She was directly instrumental in having four of Mike?s music books to be among the first to be registered in new International Standard Music Numbering system database. Similar to the ISBN numbers, ISMNs are for notated music. And the nice thing about it is that other countries charge a fee for the numbers, but the Library of Congress doesn't.
The trio expressed their excitement over the new addition and they held a photo op. Of course they did! This is better than Nashville! Mike also promised to get back to editing and formatting some more video performances for their Moving Images department. A project he was supposed to be working on before he got sidetracked with the anthology and James' CDs. I know, I know. Excuses, excuses! LOL! And incidentally, the inclusion of James' CD in Mike's anthology also makes him a part of American Music History.
On 23 January 2013, the 7-year contract on Mike's book "El Latigo, a Little Known Legend of the Tijuana Jail and Other Stories" expired and he's not renewing the contract. They were very lazy quazi-publishers so he's going to reformat it and publish it himself in paperback and ebook format.
Old music friend Kenny Haddaway from the 1980s came to town on 30 January 2013 to jam with some of the old gang at Tiffany Tavern down in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and it was good excuse for Mike to get out and away from the desk. There he got together with Andy Nocero, Dave Sergeant, Larry Tapper and Ben to stir up a little music. Then old friend Bill Gibson came to Tiffany's Tavern a week later, and you guessed it, Mike got out again! It was fun and he got some interesting video footage. Ha! More stuff to edit and eventually add to the project.
In February 2013, Mike mailed out the first batch of his and James' new CDs to Lawrence Record Shop in Nashville, radio DJs, and a couple of magazines. He was also relieved to find a lot more DJs willing to accept MP3 uploads, particularly overseas, since that postage has doubled and almost tripled depending on the country. He's still working on more consignment outlets and always seeking new radio stations to add to the long list he's compiled over the years. Some are gone, but new ones take their places and we're grateful to each and every one of them.
With the main hoopla over Mike thought he could sneak a little break and then he realized that he had delayed James recording contract because for awhile it looks as though he wouldn't complete the project. The songs had to be completed and released within a certain time frame and Mike didn't see the rationale in potentially unnecessary paperwork. Even though James was brought onboard the label in November 2012, he signed his official recording contract on 13 January 2013, with Bernard, his very proud father, co-signing. On 4 February 2013 the trio met for lunch and Mike had James autograph his official portraits for some radio DJs, including one for Mike and his dad and he then presented him with his official Roughshod Records Recording Artist Certificate. Everyone went home happy.
On 13 February 2013 both of James' songs got their first radio airplay by DJ Cowboy Werner on Gerry's Radio Sound of Heaven Show in Germany. Within two days of his promotional video being posted, they received 31 and 41 hits, more than Mike's had on his own videos in quite some time in such a short period.
Are there still unfinished works you ask? You betcha! He's still editing "Deadly Vengeance" and still editing "Close Encounter of a Bear Kind and Other Stories" (alternate title is "Tall Tales & Old Memories") and still working on his art book, and still, need I say more!
Stay tuned folks, there's plenty more to go, the Good Lord willin' and the crick don't rise!
YouTube has been an invaluable promotional tool for Mike. Having met so many wonderful and talented musicians over the years he decided that it would be a sin to keep them tucked away in a storage bin. So his YouTube Channel became a wonderful extension of his expired Top-Rail Chatter magazine, and it currently (2022) contains 1260 videos featuring not only Mike and James, but a lot his music friends, truck driving trips, and more... and no click bait.
We've have been extremely busy over the past few years with new productions. You and Me Records released its 6th CD in June 2019. Roughshod Records released its 55th CD in January 2020. James Adelsberger received two CD of the Year Awards; in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and his james Adelsberger Country Songbook published in August 2020. Mike received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, a CD of the Year Award in 2017, and has recovered pretty well from a May 2018 stroke.
Y'all come back and see us, ya hear!
Joe Arnold, Roughshod Records * February 2022