You may think of this singer as just a “Single hitter”, recalling his updated arrangement of a 1947 ballad, “Almost Like Being In Love” that he revitalized in 1978…
[For more about this arrangement, see footnote: The Hit -Almost Like Being In Love.]
But far beyond being a Single Hitter, Michael Johnson was a very talented guitarist, and as a songwriter, he was a master of ballads, putting out his own material that fit nicely in both the very hot 70s Adult Contemporary and Country genres.
Cashbox Magazine described Johnson’s work as “full of touching ballads with all the right production touches, subtle instrumentation and poignant vocals necessary to keep the tenderness from becoming insipid.“
VIDEOS & AUDIO
His first Top 40 Hit / 1978 / Bluer Than Blue / BB #12 / written by Randy Goodrum
Michael’s command of rich chord progressions contributed to his very melodic song writing.
His first song… Folk Singing with Guitar / Bristlecone Pine
1979 / From The Very First Time / lots of rich chords
1981 / I Can’t Get To You From Here
1986 / The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder / from his Wings album
1988 / That’s That / #9 BB Hot Country
Michael Johnson was born in the small town of Alamosa, Colorado and grew up in Denver. He started playing the guitar at 13. In 1963, he began attending Colorado State College to study music but his college career was cut short when he won an international talent contest two years later. First prize included a deal with Epic Records.
Wishing to hone his instrumental skills, in 1966 he set off for Barcelona, Spain, to the Liceu Conservatory, studying with the eminent classical guitarists, Graciano Tarragó and Renata Tarragó.
Upon his return to the States, he joined Randy Sparks in a group called “the New Society” and did a tour of the Orient.
When the band dissolved in 1967, he signed on with the Chad Mitchell Trio for a year, spending some of that time co-writing with another member, John Denver. The group was renamed “Denver, Boise & Johnson”. When the trio came to an end, Johnson made a radical departure from everything he had done previously by taking on a major supporting role in the off-Broadway production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.
In 1971, Johnson signed with Atco Records to release his first album, There Is A Breeze, which was released in 1973 and produced by Johnson, Chris Dedrick, Peter Yarrow and Phil Ramone in New York and Toronto, Canada.
Feeling this first effort was not a true reflection of his music (despite being a best seller in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area), Johnson self-produced his next LP in 1975, For All You Mad Musicians, relying more on his voice and guitar for a folk feel. He followed this up with Ain’t Dis Da Life, where he added a rhythm section. With each new recording and his continued touring, his popularity was increasing.
Teaming up with Brent Maher and Steve Gibson in Nashville, Tennessee, Johnson created a two-song demo consisting of “Bluer Than Blue” and “Almost Like Being in Love” (the latter song from the Broadway musical Brigadoon). EMI America took one listen and wasted no time in signing him, quickly getting The Michael Johnson Album out in 1978. “Bluer Than Blue” was written by Randy Goodrum.
The first single, “Bluer Than Blue“, became Johnson’s first Top 40 hit, peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1978; the song became a chart-topping single on the Adult Contemporary chart.
“Almost Like Being in Love” went to No. 91 on the R&B chart while hitting the Top 5 on the AC chart and the Top 40 on the pop chart. Soul singer Ruby Wilson covered “Bluer Than Blue“.
Johnson recorded five albums in all for EMI and in 1985 moved over to RCA Records, where he adopted a contemporary country style that stayed compatible with his soft, mellow leanings. He scored five Top Ten country hits from 1986 to 1989, including the chart-toppers “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder.” After two country albums on RCA (plus two greatest hits collections), Johnson moved over to Atlantic Records in 1991.
In 1995, the country music group 4 Runner scored a minor hit with the single “Cain’s Blood“, for which Johnson co-wrote an updated version with Jack Sundrud of Poco.
2010 / Bristlecone Pine (when he was suffering from COPD) /
(taken by maryj221 in Zumbrota, MN on December 17, 2010 – A great concert. In spite of the COPD, Michael had a very pure and easy listening voice.)
After struggling with COPD for many years, Johnson died at his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on July 25, 2017, at the age of 72.
The Hit – Almost Like Being In Love
“Almost Like Being in Love” was a show tune written for a 1947 musical Brigadoon, with original music by Frederick Loewe and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. The song was first sung by David Brooks in the Broadway production.
For his big hit, Michael Johnson teamed up with Nashville power producers, Brent Maher and Steve Gibson to create a two-song demo consisting of “Bluer Than Blue” and “Almost Like Being in Love“. EMI America took one listen and wasted no time in signing Johnson, quickly getting The Michael Johnson Album out in 1978.
Brent Maher is a producer, engineer, and songwriter currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee. He has produced and engineered six Grammy-winning records and received awards from the CMA, ACM, CCMA, ASCAP, SOCAN and NSAI. Maher engineered classic recordings like Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and The 5th Dimension’s “Age of Aquarius“. He discovered The Judds and produced all ten of their albums, writing many of their hit songs. Maher has also served two terms on the board of directors of the Academy of Country Music.
Steve Gibson, an accomplished studio session guitarist, has contributed to more than 14,000 songs, by his estimation. He also is a successful record engineer, working on albums by Mandy Barnett, Gene Cotton, Sara Darling, McBride & the Ride, Michael Martin Murphey, and Aaron Tippin.
Jerry Jeff Walker Intro / 1989 Live TX Connection 59 min / That’s That