Friday Find #21 – Neil Gregory Johnson

Extended Play Catalogue, Vol. 1 proves that Neil Gregory Johnson was born with rhythm. The latest record, a six-song display of the Pacific Northwest’s spin on country-western heavily structured with a Bakersfield beat, shows Johnson’s musical expertise through driving blues, cozy acoustic, and above all colorfully quaint songwriting.

To say that Johnson grew up in a musical family would be an understatement. The son of two traveling musicians, he confirms that growing up around performing musicians affected him and his siblings tremendously.

“I think we moved 7 or 8 different times. Which meant different schools, and different sets of friends… Our family would end up moving all around the Western United States, but we would eventually make a big circle back to Oregon. There were a lot of ups, and downs just like any family, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It was an adventure.

Still living in Oregon, and now raising a family of his own, Johnson still believes the work of his parents to be legendary in his mind. His mother, he says, inspired him to sing from a young age, and still captivates audiences with her unique voice and heart. His guitar-riffing father on the other hand taught him early on that expressing one’s soul in the form of art is a gift that should be perpetually cherished.

Years later, all of Johnson’s roads have led him back to both the region and the profession shared by his parents.  Since 2013, NGJ has been playing almost 300 shows per year; run the numbers, and it becomes obvious why working six days per week for five years straight has led him to take pride in this record as an inaugural introduction of his musicianship.

After performing as a local band for many years and slowly honing in on a sound that he believes to be genuine, Johnson is humbled and grateful to launch the next step of his career. With the support of his loyal fans, the dedicated Three13 Management organization, and his loving and continually-growing family (he had a baby girl just two months ago!), Johnson is extremely proud of Extended Play but more than ready to continue recording and releasing music.

The record itself is something to marvel over. Rugged vocals, pulsating percussion, and perfectly-timed guitars clash together to create an atmosphere of thriving by means of surviving. Whether you’re buzzing with the crowd in a dimly-lit dive bar or behind the wheel on a never-ending road trip, the album provides lyrics and lilts that put the mind at ease. From the mountain-minted “Three Days on the Wagon” down to the blues ballad “Well Kept”, Johnson shows his songwriting ability and musical mastery with force.

“Oh man, I can think of a couple of bars that I had in mind with [“I Want to Drink Beer With You”]… but the main one being my steady watering hole for years… The Oakland Tavern based out of Oakland, Oregon. They have ice cold beer, kick ass sandwiches, and the game is always on. I love the regulars there, everyone is there to party, and forget about their worries and troubles.”

The album, whether deliberate or not, seems to paint a visual representation of the Pacific Northwest. Keeping in mind the long-standing musical history of the region as well as its landscape and climate, Johnson asserts that the area and its culture affect him deeply. What was once the antithesis to Nashville sound, Johnson explains, the Bakersfield Sound presided over the Northwest region’s country music history, and its driving, rock-based rhythms continue to play a large role in the music emerging from states like California, Washington, and Oregon today.

Extended Play promo release video on Johnson’s site.

“It was party music, and combined with the rock n roll, folk, and soul that was so popular in LA and San Francisco. Dance halls were packed, Maddox Brothers and Rose, Buck Owens, Hoyt Axton, and Merle Haggard would do work the west coast circuit all the time. I would love to see “The Bakersfield Sound” make a national comeback in my lifetime, but either way I’m still going to do my best to represent it.”

Growing up in the Bay Area but having moved to Roseburg, OR, a wilderness town about an hour south of Eugene when he was younger, Johnson has had the Bakersfield beat-driven country vibes as a part of his character for decades. (He further explains how Johnny Cash’s 1960 Ride This Train track “Lumberjack” makes reference to Roseburg and the town’s main industries, lumber and logging, which are still active to this day.)  Each year that passes, the history of the town remains fascinating to Johnson and the backstories of the local community continue to inspire him and his music.

But while Roseburg’s history serves him in songwriting, the current, tight-knit local community of music fans and bargoers drive him to perform at the impressive frequency that he does. When he brings the band (which features Thomas Creveston on Harmonica, Steven Amari on Bass, and their new drummer Ben Anderson) along with him, they play both new and old songs for audiences of all sizes, and spend their highway time listening to anything from The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers Band to Tedeschi Trucks Band and Sturgill Simpson.

Neil Gregory Johnson’s rhythm & boots: Black Studio Les Paul paired with my custom black leather boots made by Clemons Boot Co. in Roseburg, Oregon (or if I was being really honest, my flip flops and and my Morris acoustic guitar on a hot sunny day by the pool.. ha!)

Having recently completed his first west coast tour and even after winning a battle of the bands competition in front of a two thousand person crowd, Johnson and his crew are proud of the EP, and are looking forward to the future. As with most Volume 1’s, there will be a longer-in-length continuation record in the near future, which Johnson admits to being slightly anxious but simultaneously very excited about.

After a brief breather following the recent birth of his daughter and in between teaching his three-year-old drums and piano in the studio, Johnson is always working on what’s next.  Whether it’s writing and releasing his latest material, raising a family in the town he grew up, or sharing the stage with his family or his bandmates, Johnson is always eyeing the next opportunity to make the most of.  Speaking about his upcoming songwriting efforts but seemingly reflective of his larger story, he admits: “I have a hard time writing for myself when there is so much unfinished work on the table.”

Extended Play Catalog, Vol. 1 was recorded at Cloud City Sound with Sean Flora and Steve Murray of Seismic Activities on production. (“Well Kept” was recorded separately.)

The record is available for purchase and listening wherever music is sold and streamed, and you can listen to and reach Neil Gregory Johnson through the various pages below.

Spotify

Website

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