Scott Albert Johnson
Songwriter, singer, and harmonica player SCOTT ALBERT JOHNSON has lived a nomadic life. Born in St. Louis and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, it was his thirst for knowledge and inspiration that eventually had him living in more zip codes in just a few years than most of us do in a lifetime. In cities on both coasts (and some in between), Johnson immersed himself in the local culture before realizing that he’d ultimately find the most success — both musically and personally — by returning home.
Johnson left that home at age 18 to attend college at Harvard, where he kicked field goals for the football team (he still ranks highly on the school’s career kick-scoring list). He worked in politics briefly after graduation, then studied journalism at Columbia University. A few more years in various new media and nonprofit jobs followed, but music kept calling him home in more ways than one.
“My decision to move back to Mississippi — and I have always considered it to be home, even though I lived away for many years — was affected by family, musical, and other personal considerations,” he says. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I wouldn’t trade my experiences living all around the USA for anything, and I still really like all of those places I lived, but it feels right being here. I’m blessed with a wonderful wife, two beautiful baby boys, and a tremendous extended family and group of friends and collaborators. Plus, music seems just to live in the air down here.”
It was while performing with artists he admired — including Dorothy Moore, Bloodkin, Jerry Joseph and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills among many others — that Johnson began work on his debut CD, Umbrella Man. The rootsy songwriter’s newfound sense of home and stability reveals itself throughout the album, which was recorded in Jackson and New Orleans. Like many of Johnson’s musical points of reference (including Mark Knopfler, Randy Newman, Bruce Hornsby and Van Morrison), his songs are lyrically tender and thought-provoking while his warm, rich voice and considerable harmonica skills are on display throughout.
“I’ve always felt most influenced by, or attuned to, artists who are kind of what I would call triple-threats, says Johnson. “They sing well, they play at least one instrument very well, and they write great songs. I take each of these three parts of the equation as seriously as any other part. I also feel most in tune with artists who kind of ‘are their own genre,’ borrowing from many different kinds of music. I hope my music reflects that.”
Umbrella Man was self-produced over a period of three years with local and regional musicians providing the backdrop for Johnson’s tuneful ruminations on life, love, and the true meaning of “home.” In addition to nine original songs, the album also includes a faithful harmonica version of Wynton Marsalis’ “In the Court of King Oliver”, featuring a cast of stellar New Orleans musicians that includes legendary drummer Johnny Vidacovich.
In April of 2007, Johnson had a career highlight of sorts when he performed as one of three official “future Grammy prospects” at “Mississippi: Birthplace of America’s Music”, an official Grammy event hosted by the Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour. Johnson performed with Marty Stuart, legendary guitarist James Burton, Swedish pop superstar Carola, and the Williams Brothers, among others. “It was one of those nights you just fantasize about, and just an incredible honor,” Johnson says.
Scott’s original songs include the track “Hollywood”, about a young man’s sacrifices to achieve his dreams; “What About Your Man”, a look at infidelity from the sharpest and, perhaps, loneliest corner of the love triangle; “Spaceship”, a blazing and exuberant paean to a light in the sky; “Turn Out Fine”, a rollicking glance back at a past lover; “Magnolia Road”, an ode to home and the other important things in life; and more.
It’s been a long haul, but Johnson’s career goals are simple.
“All I have ever wanted, from a musical standpoint, was to be able to make a living sharing my music with as many people as possible,” he says. “That sounds like a reasonable enough expectation, but there are so many great musicians who struggle to get their songs heard. I’m very grateful for each person who tells me they like my music, or buys my album, or comes to a show, because it means I’ve made a connection with them, and it brings me one step closer to my goal.