Mike Johnson, Country Music's No.1 Black Yodeler

Mike Johnson is Country Music's No.1 Black Yodeler

                The "Yodeling 40 Years" CD booklet

   Thanks to the recent -23 Oct. 2009- curiosity of Svein Martin, it became apparent that maybe we should present the contents of the 8-page booklet that comes with the Mike Johnson's 50-song "Yodeling 40 Years" CD. So here it is, from cover to cover, photographs included, the story behind Mike Johnson's ultimate yodeling project... 

                                                                                                  Joe Arnold, Roughshod Records    





               Mike Johnson: Biker, Trucker, Vietnam Veteran, Outdoorsman.

All songs were written and composed by Mike Johnson, BMI
Disc No.1 Song No. 15: Lyric co-writer Leo P. Maimone
Produced by Mike Johnson
Cover Photo Copyright 2006: 13 June 2006, Mike Johnson performing on his 60th Birthday at the Old Town Theater, Alexandria, Virginia.
Copyright 1971-2007 Pata del Lobo Music Publishing
Copyright 2006 Roughshod Records * All Rights Reserved
Release Date: 13 January 2007
RCD22-08060 * RCD22-080602 * 2-Disc Set * 50 songs

                                        MIKE JOHNSON * YODELING 40 YEARS
   Mike Johnson is Country Music's No.1 Black Yodeler. There have been other Black Yodelers among numerous Minstrel & String-band acts like Monroe Tabor, Beulah Henderson, Charles Anderson, and the Mississippi Sheiks. Then came Mike's personal friend, McDonald Craig, a Korean War Veteran & Bronze Star recipient, Linda Martell, Stoney Edwards, and Slim Gaillard. However, none have demonstrated Mike's unique versatility in combining both the Jimmie Rodgers and Swiss yodeling styles or written as many yodeling songs. However, it was in imitating Johnny Weissmueller's Tarzan call that he first learned to yodel.
   Mike was born on 13 June 1946 to Margaret and Joseph Johnson. He attended and graduated from Catholic grade and high schools and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in 1960. Following his high school graduation in 1965, in September that same year he joined the US Navy and served two Vietnam tours attached to the USS Constellation CVA-64. He grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, enjoying the Singing Movie Cowboys, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, and Herb Jeffries. Herb Jeffries, who later became a world renowned Jazz Musician, was the first and only African-American Singing Movie Cowboy, starring in four feature-length all-Black Cast Westerns during the 1930s.
   On his way home from a Boy Scout meeting back in 1958, young Mike heard the sounds of a Steel Guitar coming from Mary's Blue Room, a popular little honky-tonk bar on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, just a few blocks from the US Capitol. It was this captivating sound that started his transition from "cowboy" to country music and yodeling. A variety of music was listened to by his family so he also listened to and liked a lot of the popular music of the day and often imitated singers like Dean Martin, Gene McDaniel, the Ink Spots, Nat King Cole, and even Elvis Presley, to mention a few. However, the twangy melodies of country music stuck to him like hot oatmeal to your ribs on a cold winter day and quickly became his favorite music. As a singer, Mike says he was average, but when he yodeled, people sat up and took notice. Using this to fan the fires of acceptance he began searching for as many yodeling songs as he could and practiced their styles over and over, and experimented with different combinations, often using Weissmueller's Tarzan call as his springboard to find the breaks in his voice.
   This CD contains 50 songs from Mike's Yodeling Song Catalog. Each song is presented by the title, the date written, and further identified as a studio recording, live performance, or a demo. The live performances came from two sources; portable tape recorders and camcorder sound tracks. We tried to use as many original tape recordings as we could. During the 1980s Mike often carried a portable tape deck with him to "write" songs while driving his tractor-trailer. In 1995 he began carrying a camcorder.
   Disc-1 kicks it off with songs written and performed during his formative years to show where he started and how he developed. The exception being Track 14 and Track 20. Track 14 is a 2005 performance of a 1988 song and Track 20 is a 2006 performance of a 2001 song.
   Disc-2 has no studio cuts because Mike only did five Nashville sessions, cutting some 30 songs, including the seven yodeling songs on Disc-1. Repeatedly told by Nashville publishers and record labels during the 1980s that the yodel was dead, Mike shifted gears to focus on his non-yodel songs a little more. Fortunately for us he didn't believe "Nashville" and didn't abandon his yodels.
   Disc-2 contains more live performances and demos, including more of Mike's wordless yodeling songs. A major significance is that this disc contains performances following the November 2003 neck injury that ended his 20-year trucking career. He collapsed on the job when three of his neck vertebrae collapsed on his spinal cord. This stroke-like injury affected both his voice and his hand-finger dexterity and other physical functions. He spent the month of December 2003 undergoing treatment and surgery preparations at the Veterans Hospital in Washington, DC and underwent surgery at the Veteran's Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland on 4 January 2004. For almost two years it looked as if he would never pick guitar or yodel again. The nerve damage was severe and his progress so slow that he sold half of his 15 guitars!
   During Mike's post-surgery rehabilitation period we dug out his huge inventory of demo tapes and videos of his live performances and trucking trips and journeyed down memory lane. He began driving a truck for Newlon's Transfer in September 1981 and was always somewhere across this great country 80-percent of the time! In 1995 when Newlon's closed its doors after 45 years, Mike worked for two other trucking companies until his injury. So you can just imagine what being homebound for nearly two years was doing to an active person like him. And my nerves! Ha!
   The cassette tapes and videos kept him from going completely stir-crazy and we were both amazed at the sound quality on a number of the live performances, considering they had been taped on a variety of portable cassette tape recorders that were merely sat on barroom table-tops and such. When we got into this project a few of the songs had to be re-done because of the poor quality of some of the recorders. You could hear the spindles squeak and the "record" and "stop" buttons clack on the tape! We spent many days listening, listening, and re-listening.Then mixing, mixing, and re-mixing until we almost didn't give a hoot about ever hearing another yodel again! The videos also revealed some amazingly clean audio tracks with only minor glitches. The most important factor was that these were the sparks that made Mike determined to perform again. As a number of these post-2004 performances show, his determination paid off and he has still managed to keep an acceptable ring in his yodels.


   Mike had always wanted to do this album, but until his injury, his busy life kept him pretty busy. Not only trucking, but his book writing, illustrations and paintings, and photography to mention a few. As well as motorcycling [cut short when he began truckin'] fishing, camping, shooting, and other outdoor activities he loved. His latest book "El Latigo, A Little Known Legend of The Tijuana Jail And Other Stories" was published in August 2006 and is available Online through Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble and other Internet sites. Take a trip back to the 1960s and see just how rowdy a young beer-drinking, gun-totin' motorcycle and horseback riding Mike Johnson really was.
   On 1 September 2002, the National Traditional Country Music Association in Anita, Iowa inducted Mike Johnson into America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame.
   On 13 June 2006 Mike turned 60 years old, and its pretty plain to see that his yodeling isn't ready to ride off into the Sunset. We've ridden a lot of trails together and our saddlebags are always packed and ready for another adventure. 
                                                                                                              Joe Arnold, Roughshod Records

1. JUST A NOBODY: 3:01 [18 March 1971] 1981 Globe Recording Studio, Nashville, Tn. Mike's third yodeling song, inspired by a poem he had written called "Song Of A Drifter." Based on his motorcycling this poem appeared in 1977 in his first self-published [poetry] book called "Reflections."

2. THE BEERS IN THE CABIN: 2:30 [10 July 1982] 13 October 1982, Royal Lee's Deli, Arlington, Va. As you can see, this beer-drinkin', Vietnam Veteran is in his element with the beer-chugging ground-pounders from nearby Ft. Myers Army Base.

3. AROUND THE CORNER AROUND THE GLOBE: 1:02 [31 January 1982] Original Demo: This is the third version of three radio jingles that Mike wrote for Newlon's radio ads. The Newlon's were also Mike Johnson fans and Ms. Newlon made sure the her Dispatcher son, Butch Newlon, routed Mike to places where he could also perform. Mike revised the photo cover and label to his "King of the Road * I Walk The Line" CD Single and dedicated it to Butch who passed away on 29 April 2004, almost a year following the passing of his mother, Ms. Newlon.

4. AS LONG AS THERE IS MUSIC There'll be Hank Williams Too: 2:54 [24 May 1983] 1984 Champ Recording Studio, Nashville, Tn. One of his first tribute songs to Hank Williams that he unsuccessfully pitched to Hank Williams Jr. that same year.

5. THE YODEL: 3:04 [23 July 1981] 17 November 1982 Royal Lee's Deli, Arlington, Va. Originally titled "I Can Yodel Songs Like Them All" a hot-shot young Mike also sent this song to Art Rush, Roy Rogers manager hoping to get Roy to cut it. Art praised Mike's fast yodeling ability and urged him to keep yodeling. No word from Roy though.

6. HIGH LONESOME: 3:23 [13 June 1988] Original Demo: This song was inspired by a same-titled novel [unpublished & still on hold] Mike wrote about some personal tragedies during the 1970s. This track required many re-mixes to try and eliminate the recorder spindle squeal. Listen real close and you can faintly hear it.

7. HOOKED ON RODEO: 4:07 [11 December 1983] 1984 Champ Recording Studio, Nashville, Tn. Mike loved horses and he learned ride around age 12 at Ivakota Farm in Clifton, Virginia. During his youth he rode as often as he could, including at the Subic Bay Riding Stables in the Philippines and even participated in small non-sanctioned rodeos. "Subic Bay Broncs" is one of the stories in his book, "El Latigo..."

8. YOUR OLD LADY: 8:52 [22 February 1982] 23 March 1983 Royal Lee's Deli, Arlington, Va. Mike's first "teach me how to yodel" song that was very popular in the Northern Virginia area during the 1980s. He has often threatened to re-learn this 7-minute song that he hasn't performed since the 1980s.

9. HIGH STEPPIN' PONY: 4:02 [8 February 1987] Original Demo: Another horseback riding tune with a Jimmie Rodgers/Gene Autry flavor.

10. I BELIEVE IN ROY ROGERS: 3:46 [24 May 1983] 1986 Champ Recording Studio, Nashville, Tn. While we baby-boomers know that Singing Cowboys really didn't roam around the Old West, this tribute to the Hollywood Cowboy's "Code of the West" resurrects some of those warm childhood range-riding memories.

11. EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO TO HEAVEN: 3:01 [4 March 1983] 1983 Whitey's, Arlington, Va. "But nobody wants to die to get in..." or simply put, as more of the song goes, "...they wanna reap the crops, but don't wanna push the plow."

12. HE PROMISED ME A RING FOR MY FINGER: 3:31 [27 December 1981] Original Demo: "...but he only left a ring around my tub..." was a line uttered by Louise Mandrel during her skit on the "Barbara Mandrell TV Show." Mike wrote the song several days later and pitched it to her, with no luck. It was a local barroom favorite for awhile before bowing to Mike's "Here's To Barmaids Everywhere."

13. BLACK YODEL No.1: 2:45 [1 April 1983] 1985 Champ Recording Studio, Nashville, Tn. This is the first Mike Johnson wordless yodeling song. He wrote it following an encounter at "Michael's" Country Bar in Virginia Beach, Virginia. A friend slipped Mike's business card into the tip jar and the lead singer, mistaking the "Black Yodel No.1" on the card as the name of a song, asked Mike to come up and sing it. Pretending that he had a cold Mike took a rain check and about two weeks later wrote the song. Yes, he did go back and performed it!

14. T-SHIRT YODEL: 5:33 [3 June 1988] Video: 7 May 2005, The Bowery Poetry Club, New York City. This song resulted from numerous bumble-brains asking Mike "Do you really yodel?" after reading the "Black Yodel No.1" logo on his T-shirts. He soon began responding "Naw, my T-shirts do." This was Mike's first official appearance after nearly two years of rehabilitation resulting from his 2003 neck injury. Wisely deciding not to drive his pickup, he took the Greyhound to participate in Bart Plantenga's last 2005 U.S. Yodel Book lecture with Yodelers Randy Erwin and Lynn Book. He suffered only some mild hand stress during his six-song performance. A video of the entire show is available from Roughshod Records. Bart, a Netherlands native, authored the 2004 best seller, "Yodel-Ay-Ee-Ooo, The Secret History of Yodeling Around The World."

15. I'M JUST A COUNTRY SINGER: 2:48 [22 November 1981] Demo: Lyric co-writer Leo P. Maimone. Friends since 1960 Boy Scouting days, Leo sometimes dabbled in poems and Mike would occasionally find something interesting. This was Leo's casual "tribute" to Mike's budding "career" and Mike reworked it into a song. The popular "Pigtails and Bubblegum" is another Maimone poem that Mike turned into a song and released on his very popular 1987 Cassette Album "Did You Hug Your Mother Today?" The album was released on CD in 1999 and debuted on the CD Baby site on 13 December 2006.

16. ME AND MY FRIEND JIM: 3:14 [18 December 1986] 1986 Champ Recording Studio, Nashville, Tn. This is about one of Mike's best horseback riding, beer-drinkin' and trucking buddies, who worked with him in Texas during the summer of 1987.

17. COYOTE YODEL: 1:59 [13 May 1998] Video: 19 August 1998, Gibson Guitar Café, Nashville, Tn. Another wordless yodeling song and a crowd-pleasing triple yodel treat.

18. I AIM TO BE THE BEST: 7:39 [9 April 1983] Original Demo: An early ego song in which Mike lets you know that he intends to take his yodels a step or two farther than Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Roy Rogers. This track is from the master copy of his 1983 MAJJ Production [home-studio] release, "Mike Johnson's Guitar Songs Vol.1." He sold all 300 copies! It was later re-released on cassette and then CD under the Roughshod Records banner. This acoustic series continued with Guitar Songs Vol.2 released in 2002. Vol.3 is in the works.

19. YEAH I'M A COWBOY: 3:43 [9 October 1978] 1987 Champ Recording Studio, Nashville, Tn. Another memory lane tune that is one of 18 yodeling songs featured on the 25 September 2006 "Rough to Yodel" CD, produced by the World Music Network in London; one of several yodeling projects initiated by Bart Plantenga. Mike is also included in Bart's forth-coming follow-up book, "Yodel In Hi-Fi" along with other Black and White Yodelers that Bart has uncovered and some of America's neglected Black Cowboys from the Old West.

20. TARZAN DID: 4:37 [25 July 2001] Video: 8 July 2001 Coffee House of Occoquan, Occoquan, Va. On the Main Stage at the August 2000 Old Time Country Music Festival in Avoca, Iowa, while Bob Everhart, President of NTCMA was presenting Contest Awards he spontaneously asked Mike how he got into yodeling, to which Mike quickly responded "Johnny Weissmueller!" So after watching the video playback of that incident for the ump-teenth time Mike wrote the song under the working title of "The Bob Everhart Song."

1.YODEL ROUNDUP: 4:51 [13 June 1999] Video: 8 July 2006, Coffee House of Occoquan, Occoquan, Va. The first-born child of Mike's vocal exercises, this medley turned formal song was often used to placate the crowd when he was in one of his "yodel lazy" moods and just wanted to sing instead of yodel!

2.YODEL CROSS THE MOUNTAIN: 1:14 [1 October 2006] Demo: Definitely one of the best places to safely practice your yodeling and really let your hair down.

3. WILD HORSE YODEL: 1:30 [13 April 2005] Video: 25 June 2005 Coffee House of Occoquan, Occoquan Va. Wild horses can go anywhere they want. There's also a "Rodeo Yodel"  and a "Bullriders Yodel."

4. A GOOD OLD YODELING SONG: 2:53 [8 October 1992] Demo: Looking for a new direction, this one takes you there and brings you back.

5. TIME DON'T MEAN A THING: 2:38 [22 December 1987] Video: 14 October 2006 Occoquan Coffee House, Occoquan, Va. This is one of several "western" songs reflecting Mike's youthful attraction to Sagebrush melodies.

6. IN THE MOONLIGHT: 2:26 [19 October 1987] Demo: Another sagebrush reflection that Mike often revisited to work on the yodel part. He readily admits that getting a suitable yodel for this simple melody was really challenging.

7. HAPPY YODELING MAN: 1:38 [6 April 2006] Video: 6 May 2006 Coffee House of Occoquan, Occoquan, Va.  Yodeling is a natural high and I remember Mike being in a really good mood when he wrote this one. 

8. SNUGGLE-UP YODEL: 1:08 [18 September 2006] Demo: A good one to snuggle up by the fireplace with your sweetheart and a bottle of brandy.

9. TEACH US HOW TO YODEL!: 2:49 [12 January 1983] 12 Jan 1983 Royal Lee's Deli, Pershing Drive, Arlington, Va.  Howling the night away with Ft. Myer's beer-drinking crowd.

10. OCCOQUAN COFFEE HOUSE YODEL: 2:32 [13 June 2003] Demo: This is the actual lyric version of Mike's impromptu "yodel lessons" that were adopted by the patrons of the Occoquan Coffee House.

11. YODEL MIKE!: 1:50 [26 January 1988] 26 January 1983, Royal Lee's Deli, Pershing Drive, Arlington, Va. The Honor Guard at Fort Myer's is always ready for cold beer and some good old fashioned yodeling!

12. TRYIN' TO BE A YODELIN' SONG: 2:19 [21 April 2006] Demo: Couldn't have said it better myself. This is basically how a lot of Mike's yodels are born. Hearing that one standout riff that cries out for independence!

13. THE RAIN IS COMING DOWN: 2:01 [13 April 1971] 10 March 1979, The Songsmith, 749 7th St. SE, Washington, DC. While Mike was always comfortable playing on camping trips, at summer camps and local barrooms with his rowdy beer-drinking buddies, he did have some stage fright when it came to formal audiences. The Songsmith was one of those early local venues that helped him overcome that. This particular cut came from the Somgsmith's in-house recording system so you won't hear a lot of background audience noise. Mike was between jobs when he wrote this one rainy night while watching his Manx cat, Joe, playing with a catnip mouse on the hardwood floor.

14. YODEL IN THE BLUES: 3:34 [19 March 2000] Demo: When you're sad it's natural to wail a mournful tune, so there's got to be a yodel in the blues. Hmm, we're gonna have to change that line!

15. COFFEE HOUSE YODEL LESSON: 3:12 Video: 3 December 2006 One of many popular group participation sessions at the Coffee House of Occoquan. The warm, friendly open-minded reception of the patrons at Linda Caldwell's cozy little shop attracts singers and songwriters of all genres from all around the Northern Virginia region and beyond.

16. BLACK YODEL NO.2: 2:07 [4 June 1999] Original Demo: Why has this easy flowing, not too often performed song been hiding until recently, Mike? This was deliberately written as a Black Yodel whereas the others that followed were so-named for lack of a better name.

17. T-FOR TRAVELIN': 5:10 [17 May 1988] Original Demo. This is the full version of one of several trucking songs that Mike has never performed in public! I haven't a clue why and have never asked!

18. FREIGHT TRAIN YODEL: 2:07 [9 March 2005] All aboard! Mike has fond memories of his pre-teen summer vacation train trips to visit his half-Cherokee Great-Aunt Gladys.

19. RAMBLIN': 3:15 [1 January 1967] This motorcycling song is actually Mike's first yodeling song. He wrote it about a month before going to San Diego, California for assignment aboard the Vietnam bound Attack Aircraft Carrier, USS Constellation CVA-64.

20. LOOKIN' FOR SOME FUN: 3:07 [31 July 2004] Another inspiration from the impromptu Coffee House yodel lessons. Mike also hosted their Saturday night Open Mic's from December 2005 to September 2006.

21. BLACK YODEL NO.3: 1:24 [13 June 2002] A good yodel writing day.

22. BLACK YODEL NO.4: 1:17 [13 June 2002] Still on a yodelin' roll.

23. JIMMIE WAS A YODELIN' MAN: 2:51 [20 April 2006] Mike's tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman who was also known as the Blue Yodeler.

24. HANK SANG MOSTLY SAD SONGS: 3:38 [30 September 1987] This is the original version the way that Mike wrote it. It debuted without the yodels on Dustin Hunt's 2003 album "The Man, The Music, The Legend, A Tribute To Hank," [TMTM1170]. Mike also mastered Hunt's "An Echo From The Past, A Tribute To Hank" Cassette to CD for him.

25. IN THE COLD, COLD GROUND: 4:02 [5 July 1989] A somber piece with an old time Gospel-Bluegrass flavor of the 1950s.

26. BREAK ONE-NINE: 4:04 [18 May 1988] Another trucking song that Mike has never publicly performed. Some of them are scheduled for more upcoming "Mike Johnson's Guitar Songs" Acoustic Series.

27. BLACK YODEL NO.5: 1:11 [13 June 2002] On a songwriting roll Mike has been known to crank out as many as 8 songs a day and other days its like trying to pull teeth from an alligator!

28. BLACK YODEL NO.6: 2:53 [28 August 2006] Just like song "Tryin' To Be A Yodeling Song " says "Every time I yodel I always hear one more..."

29. BLACK YODEL NO.7: 1:08 [28 August 2006] Sorry, but "Black Yodel No.8" didn't make it, along with about a dozen other wordless yodeling songs.

30. LET ME DIE IN A HONKY TONK: 3:43 [23 May 2004] "Let me die in a honky-tonk when it's my time to go. I wanna be singin' yodeling songs. You know, the ones I wrote..."

Dedicated to my good Friend McDonald Craig for your unwavering perseverance in keeping yet another part of our rich and varied Heritage alive! Thank you.   Mike Johnson


Mike Johnson with McDonald Craig of Linden, Tennessee at the 1999 Old Time Country Music Festival in Avoca, Iowa. Born in 1932, McDonald grew up in a household of Country Music performers. When he returned from Korea he recorded for Nashville's Gold Standard Records during the mid-1960s and toured the country from Tennessee to Nebraska and many points in between. McDonald is the only Black Yodeler to ever win 1st Place at an Annual [1978] Jimmie Rodgers Yodeling Championship sponsored by the Jimmie Rodgers Museum in Meridian, Mississippi. As of this 2007 release, Mac, also a Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame Member, is currently enjoying life on his historic Tennessee "Century Farm."

                                    Roughshod Records * Est. 1987 * A MAJJ Production

                                                      Copyright 2009 MAJJ Productions