Jamey Johnson with Kelsey Waldon and Chris Hennessee
April 7, 2019
Jamey Johnson is a guitarist and songwriter who personifies the Americana musical genre. His music is a powerful mélange of blues, folk, pop, southern rock and, of course, country. Simply put, it is Americana. One could say that Johnson is practically the definition of Outlaw Country and/or Alt-Country. Johnson has quite the pedigree. During the course of his career he has written or co-written singles for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Trace Adkins, George Strait, James Otto, Joe Nichols and Jessie James Decker. He has recorded with Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Blackberry Smoke, Elvis Costello, Joe Bonamassa and the Blind Boys of Alabama. He plays a big old oversized guitar that he calls “Old Maple.” “Old Maple” is the Epiphone guitar that Johnson bought shortly after he finished boot camp in the U.S. Marine Corps at Parris Island. It is now covered with signatures of his musical influences, friends, and heroes including: Neil Young, Nelson, Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and many others.
Johnson served in the military for eight years. His initial 2002 self-released album features two songs that mention his Marine Corps service. In 2006, Johnson released his major label debut The Dollar (BNA Records) which was buoyed by the single “The Dollar.” His second album, the platinum-certified That Lonesome Song, was released in 2008 on Mercury Nashville Records. That album produced two singles (the Top 10 hit “In Color” and “High Cost of Living”) and peaked at #28 on the Billboard U.S. Albums Chart. Johnson’s most recent album of original songs The Guitar Song (Mercury Nashville) was released in 2010 and peaked at #4 on the Billboard U.S. Albums Chart.
In 2016, he toured with Michael McDonald, Warren Haynes, Don Was, Ivan Neville, Cyril Neville, John Medeski, “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin (the guitarist for the late Muddy Waters), Mark Mullins, Bobby Campo, Ward Smith, Matt Perrine and Terence Higgins on The Last Waltz 40 Tour. On this tour Johnson handled many of the lead vocals and traded-off with Haynes on the lead guitar duties. Johnson has also recorded songs for several tribute projects, among them, the tributes honoring ZZ Top, Johnny Cash, Elmore James and others.
On a cool but pleasant early April evening, Johnson touched down at the sold-out Paramount in Huntington, NY. The mid-sized venue was filled with a multi-generational audience which ranged from the 6-year-old girl who came with her father (tickets to the show was her birthday present) to fans well into their seventies. On this night, Johnson and his band was joined by opening acts Chris Hennessee (who serves as the lead guitarist in Johnson’s band and has released a number of solo albums over the past ten or so years) and Kelsey Waldon.
The evening began with an eye-opening set by Waldon. The crowd members who, at the start of her performance, were asking, “who is she,” were cheering by the end of her short but powerful set. Highlights of her set included: “High In Heels,” “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road,” “The Heartbreak” and “All By Myself.” Following the short intermission after Waldon’s performance, Hennessee delivered an even shorter but rollicking set featuring tunes from his latest release Ramble (Big Gassed Records, 2018).
The main event began at approximately 9:15pm. Johnson and his band opened with a fantastic version of “Keeping Up With the Jonesin’” and then rolled into the gritty “High Cost of Living” (a sobering account of the horrors of substance abuse, self destruction and recovery). The night’s performance was a marathon. Where it was short on conversation (Johnson said, “hello” and took a few requests), it was long on musicianship. Other highlights of the performance included: “By The Seat of Your Pants, “Ray Ray’s Juke Joint,” “The Dollar,” “In Color,” the witty “Cash My Checks” (which features the sly “You can take my word, but you can’t cash my checks” lyric) and “That Lonesome Song.” Johnson shined on some very well-chosen covers: a rockin’ version of “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” (the Georgia Satellites), the haunting “This Land Is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie), a soulful version of “Ophelia” (the Band), “Willin’” (Little Feat), a duet with Waldon on “Paradise” (John Prine), a goovin’ version of “Tulsa Time” (written by Don Williams and most notably covered by Eric Clapton) and “I Saw the Light” (Hank Williams). At the end of the show, for the closing tunes, Waldon and her band joined Johnson and his band. They brought down the house and had everyone in attendance clapping, whistling, cheering and screaming for more.
The fans in the crowd spent the evening singing along, dancing to the music and using their phones to take pictures and videos. Some stood for the entire evening completely in awe of the performance. When the concert was over, the fans including that same 6-year-old girl (who was clutching her new prized possession--a large poster of Johnson that was bigger than she was), were crowding the merchandise stand where they treated themselves to t-shirts, hats, keychains, CDs, vinyl, hoodies and other merchandise.
Photos by Christine Connallon