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Jamey Johnson Opens Up About Songwriting and Keeping Opinions to Himself

Jamey Johnson
Mercury Nashville

Jamey Johnson describes his fans as “passionate and loyal,” adding “they get the same degree of both from me.” Often times the soft-spoken singer says he’ll look out over a crowd and see people attending their fourth or fifth concert … this year. While this sort of patronage is enough to pull a thin smile out of the harvest of dark brown and grey hair that guards what would otherwise be a sweetly boyish face, it’s Johnson’s songwriting that has brought him the most reverence and attention.

Johnson’s last two albums have received an approval trifecta; fans, critics and music industry insiders all rave about the way his vulnerabilities and emotions ride every note and each lyric. Not that the singer really cares too much about all that.“I have not met two people in the music industry that define ‘Hit’ the same way,” he said during a recent teleconference. He bristles at the word, and the suggestion that he’s somehow out to write “hits.”

That’s just what Johnson has done, though. In addition to his own award-winning music — including an ACM award and Grammy nomination for ‘That Lonesome Song’ — Johnson has written hits for George Strait (‘Give It Away’) and Trace Adkins (‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’), the latter a song that is, well … very un-Jamey Johnson-like. He said he can do this because he doesn’t judge one songwriter’s idea from another. “I say every song is worth writing, because you never know what the results are gonna be,” he explained.

“I’ve never been one to try to steer someone else away from their concept of where they wanted their song to go,” he said in a slow, measured Alabama drawl. He forces you to lean in close to hear every word. “So if I got in a writing room and somebody decided they wanted to write something that may not suit me or fit me for my own project … I’m not likely to shut everything down and go, ‘Hey man, this ain’t working.’ Usually you follow through and just kind of make the best of it.”

“I’m also not one to throw a rock through glass houses either,” he said. “You’re not gonna hear me bashing another artist or putting down their music. I know it takes all kinds, and I’m just one flavor.”

Most often, Johnson’s music comes from his own perspective and own experiences. Songwriting, after all, is about life. “My early life is definitely going to be a source of my writing from time to time. It seems to be the part that I guard the most, but when I share it I share the most freely. It’s the foundation of not just my songs but the entire reason I started singing and writing songs in the first place,” Johnson said.

He played coy when asked about his new music, saying he didn’t want to jinx a new project by talking about it before fans had a chance to hear it. In the meantime, he’ll just keep his tour bus rolling, and make the most of stops nationwide, including a performance at Farm Aid over the weekend.

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