Michael Johnson has been bluer than blue, but not of late.
The singer-songwriter who found fame in 1978 with his song “Bluer Than Blue” has plenty to smile about these days, having found a long-lost daughter, moved back to the Minneapolis area to be near her and his grandchild and, before he could do those things, survived quadruple bypass surgery.
Johnson is back doing what he loves best, singing for his supper, as he describes it, and he will do just that Friday for the Little Rock Folk Club. It will be his first central Arkansas show since sometime in the early 1990s.
“I’ve made some changes, such as moving back to Minneapolis,” Johnson says. “I used to live there, from the late ’60s until 1985, when I moved to Nashville, Tenn., but I decided it was time for a move, especially when I got a new record deal with Red House Records, a really great label in the Twin Cities. Plus my daughter, Truly, also moved here with her husband, who is managing director of the Children’s Theater Company.
“Truly had been adopted at birth and when she became an adult, tracked me down, and we became friends. She had been trained as an opera singer, and she has a 13-yearold son.” He didn’t know he had a grandson. “So I guess I’ve got plenty of material to write about for a while.”
Johnson considers himself fortunate that his health held out so that he was able to meet his new family members. In August 2007, he had heart surgery after wondering why he had begun to feel exhausted all the time. Like many musicians, he was “under-insured,” but thanks to musical friends who put together a fundraiser, he was able to pay his medical bills, and more.
“My friends even bought me a car,” he says. “That whole experience was kind of an epiphany. I’m glad to be alive and celebrating my daughter. Plus, I have two sons, one a chef in Nashville, and another is a musician in Asheville, N.C.”
Born in Alamosa, Colo., in 1944, Johnson grew up in Denver and fell in with some of the 1960s folk music pioneers, including Randy Sparks, John Denver and Peter Yarrow. He released his first album, There Is a Breeze, on Atco Records in 1973, and has since released 18 more albums on numerous labels, including Sanskrit, EMI, RCA, Atlantic, Vanguard, Intersound, Razor & Tie, American Originals and Yellow Rose.
His top pop and country chart singles, after “Bluer Than Blue,” include “Almost Like Being in Love,” “This Night Won’t Last Forever,” “You Can Call Me Blue,” “Gotta Learn to Love Without You,” “Give Me Wings,” “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder,” “Ponies,” “Crying Shame,” “I Will Whisper Your Name,” “That’s That” and “Roller Coaster Run (Up Too Slow, Down Too Fast).”
Johnson also has done duet songs with Sylvia (“I Love You by Heart”), Juice Newton (“It Must Be You”) and Alison Krauss (“Whenever I Call You Friend”).
Johnson’s latest CD, Moonlit Deja Vu, his first studio album in 15 years, came out in 2012 and features a duet with his formerly lost daughter on “One Mile Apart.”
While he has also done off-Broadway acting (which he swears he is done with), he admits he still does some writing besides songs.
“I’m compiling columns that I wrote in a magazine, Performing Songwriter, for a book,” Johnson says. “They’re sort of ‘how-to’ things, like how to do a set list, how to deal with stage fright, taking care of your guitar and how to make it into show business. Some of that is also covered in a course I teach at a music college in Minneapolis.
“And Red House Records wants a new CD for release in the spring. It’s cool to be wanted by a label as prestigious as them.”
7:30 p.m. Friday, Little Rock Folk Club, Thomson Hall, Unitarian Universalist Church, 1818 Reservoir Road, Little Rock
Admission: $15; $12 for students with IDs; free for accompanied children 12 and under
Weekend, Pages 34 on 10/31/2013
Print Headline: ‘Bluer Than Blue’ singer Johnson is all smiles