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Mike Johnson n/a Elton Britt

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Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson is Country Music's No. 1 Black Yodeler. He has written over 150 yodeling songs and 114 of them [including his “Black Yodel No.1” - “Did You Hug Your Mother Today?” - “Yodeling 40 Years” CDs & biography] became part of the Library of Congress' Recorded Sound Reference Center's permanent music collection in April 2007.
On 1 September 2002 Mike Johnson was inducted into America's Old Time Country Music Hall Of Fame by The National Traditional Country Music Association at the 27th Annual Old Time Country Music Festival, in Avoca, Iowa.

Born in 1946, this Altar Boy, Eagle Scout [1960] and Camp Counselor, attended and graduated from Catholic Grade and High schools. Contrary to popular belief, Mike did not aspire to be a singer or yodeler during his youth. He was an avid reader who loved to draw pictures, write stories, and spend a lot of time camping, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, back packing, and canoeing. In September 2005 he joined the U.S. Navy and served two Vietnam tours attached to the USS Constellation, CVA-64 from 1967 to 1969. Afterwards he also worked as a Bus Boy, Motorcycle Courier, Park Police Officer, Freelance Photographer, Driving Instructor, and in September 1981 he became a long-distance trucker. Trucking, starting with Newlon's Transfer [1981 to 1995, the first of three companies] in Arlington, Virginia, would play a major role in establishing him on the Independent Country Music circuit.

When he did become involved, his early influences, the Singing Cowboys like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, Herb Jeffries [the first and only Black Movie Singing Cowboy] and the sound of the Steel Guitar paved his way to Country Music. He later honed himself on the music of Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Roger Miller. Mike says Roger Miller gave him the songwriting bug.
"I just wanted to be a songwriter! But I've had to do everything else along the way to get there!"
He has since written over 1200 songs and over 150 yodeling songs.

Mike began performing in local bars and honky-tonks in the mid-1960s. This paved the way to appearances at other places around the country from 1978 on. In 1981 he went to Nashville for his first professional recording session at Jim Maxwell's Globe Recording Studio on Dickerson Road. He recorded five songs in a two-hour session from which sprang his first 45rpm single, "King Of The Fish/Please Don't Squeeze The Charmin" on his MAJJ Productions literary banner.
"I still regard this session as the best one I ever did!" Mike maintains.
When Globe Studio relocated to White House, Tennessee in 1983 Maxwell sent Mike over to his friend Jim Stanton at Champ Recording Studio on Church Street. Here he met and mentored under the founder and owner of the legendary Rich-R-Tone Records and continued to record his songs at Champ Studio until Jim's untimely death in 1989.
"Jim taught me how Nashville clique thought and worked..." Mike acknowledges.

"Did You Hug Your Mother Today?" became his first radio hit in 1994, being the most requested song and playing for three weeks surrounding Mother's Day on Big John Baldry's Michigan Jamboree Radio Show, WBYW-FM 89.9.
Mike Johnson has appeared in numerous publications, from newsletters and magazines like Hard Country Beat, to the Washington Post, as well as Pulitzer Prize Nominee, Pamela E. Foster’s two anthologies about African Americans in Country Music; her 1998 "My Country, The African Diaspora's Country Music Heritage" and her 2000 "My Country Too, The Other Black Music." In the spring of 2003 his song "Hank Sang Mostly Sad Songs" debuted on Dustin Hunt's CD Album "The Man, The Music, The Legend, A Tribute To Hank."

Everything came to a sudden halt when three neck vertebrae collapsed on his spinal cord in November 2003. He was treated at the Veterans Hospital in Washington D.C. and underwent surgery in January 2004 at the Veterans Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. On 27 September 2004, Mike's mother passed away at the age of 75, following a two-year bout with brain tumors. After almost two years of immobility and rehabilitation, Mike began showing physical signs of improvement and he is coping with the physical limitations.
In February 2008 Guitar Songs Vol. 5 “Bad Whiskey, Bad Sex, and Bad Men” [RCD28-0208] was released. Mike returned to his favorite type of songs; beer-drinking, down-and-out, cheatin’ heart songs. No yodeling songs here, but there are some blues favored ones and a hint of rock and roll swirling around!
The end of March 2008 saw the recording and release of his first audio book, "Reflections." He readily admits that the Public Speaking Merit Badge was his most difficult one in the Boy Scouts! And he sings? Mike has wanted to do this many times over the years, but you know how that is, something else always pops up. Being retired from trucking and with lots of time, he decided to give it a serious shot. So he pulled out a printed edition and read and re-read it aloud for a week before recording it.
Guitar Songs Vol.6 “Plain Old Yodeling” [RCD29-070801] and Guitar Songs Vol.7, “Silly & Sentimental Songs” [RCD30-070802] soon followed. After 27 years, “Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” [RCD31-S070803] debuted as the title song on a CD Single with “Snakes Don’t Sleep On A Hot Rock” on track No.2! It was first released in 1981 on the flip side of his side 45rpm single “King of the Fish.” As a special bonus, this release also includes the sound tracks and the lyrics to both songs.

In February 2009 DJ Rowena Muldavin began spinning Mike’s music on her California radio show “All Things Country.” The Library of Congress Mike Johnson collection is still expanding. In July 2009, Official Pat Baughman, of the Library’s Recording Arts Reading Room Reference section accepted a copy of the 22-song “Mike Johnson Folio” for their reference collection. Jupiter Records’ Johnny Meyer composed new music for 11 of the songs therein.
After a long hiatus resulting from his November 2003 neck injury Mike Johnson finally hit the big road again in 2009 and went to the week-long Old Time Country Music Festival in LeMars, Iowa. He was as excited to see his old friends as they were to see him! Danny Dee & Donna Lynne, Bob & Sheila Everhart, John & Marge Duttweiller, Terry Smith, Bill Lear, Larry Harms, Greta Elkins, Jackie Shewey, Elaine Peacock, Lee Muller, Bertha Swatzell, Sherwin & Pam Linton, and many others. He also met a lot of new folks. Most notably Wayne Longtin and his SideTracks band; Terry Durr, Kathy & Ed Dovel, with whom he had a blast on stage, as our Youtube site will affirm. He met newcomer Oliver Fenceroy, a hidden jewel from Sioux City, Iowa, and had the privilege of backing up on his Main Stage debut. Imagine that! Oliver was one of several National Traditional Country Music Association “Rising Legend” recipients that year. He met the dynamic duo from Ohio, a dynamic duo from Ohio, Peter (Choong-Hyon-Lim) the fantastic Korean Yodeler, the Kooi Band, Mike Jones, the Jake Simpson Band, Allen Karl, and Razzy Bailey, to mention a few.

Mike’s song “Yeah I’m a Cowboy” had been released four times on his own label since 1993. Its release on the “Rough Guide to Yodel” 18-song CD however, took it and Mike to new heights and prompted him to give it some special treatment. In December 2009 he released it as the 2010 Limited Edition CD & Sheet Music Folio” [RCD33-S011209CD] featuring both a sheet music score and a CD of the song attached inside the folio jacket. The front cover features a 1973 photo of gunslinger Mike Johnson with his .45 Colt revolver and Winchester 94, while the rear cover features nine photos of him shooting, riding horses, and some of his guns and belt buckles from bygone days. It met with immediate success and for a while we couldn’t keep enough on hand!

The Everharts came to Virginia in December 2009. Following their week-long LeMars Music festival in Iowa, Bob Everhart, founder of the long-standing [1976] National Traditional Country Music Association, and his wife and daughter, Sheila and Bobbie Lhea, respectively, usually take a winter break and tour the US, Mexico, Europe, or some other earthly place to spread traditional American music.
When Everhart’s arrived at Cherry Hill Campground in College Park, Maryland around the 3rd of December the weather was a miserable mixture of cold, rain, and snow. The brave trio went with Mike on a brief tour of Arlington Cemetery and then to his home where they got to see the “Command Center” for all of his art, literature, music, photography and video projects. It had been originally planned for them to visit “Ben’s Chili Bowl” in Washington DC for some Soul Food but the weather kept its ugly head reared so Mike treated them to lunch at “Flavors” a local Soul Food establishment in Arlington Virginia. On Saturday night 5 December 2009, Bob and Shelia did a small gig at the Occoquan Coffee House in Occoquan Virginia, owned by Mike’s friend Linda Caldwell. The crowd, though sparse because of the weather, received them with great enthusiasm. Floyd Harrison, publisher of the Lorton Valley Star, was on hand to photograph and take notes for his publication, and on a brisk and chilly Sunday morning, Mike came down to say good-bye and escort them in the right direction south for their premiere performance on the “Tribute to Ted Mack” show in Miami Florida. Later, Mike sent them a copy of their performance and even posted some of it on his youtube site.

During his neck injury recovery period [2003-2005] Mike listened to numerous old recordings of some of his live performances during the 1980s, including a couple from 1979. From them sprang five "Mike Johnson Live!" CD releases, expanding his "Mike Johnson’s Guitar Song" Acoustic Series to twelve, starting in February 2010 with “Looking Back to 198 Mike Johnson & Freddy the Swedish Fiddler.” [RCD36-022010] Freddie was part of a music exchange program that was visiting the Nation's Capitol. They met at Ardis Music Shop, owned by Mike's friend, Joe Capalbi. This was followed by “Mike Johnson Live! at the Songsmith.” [RCD37-022010] This 1979 performance was held at The Songsmith, a songwriter's showcase venue that was held in the house that a former elementary school friend and Boy Scout companion grew up in during the 1950/60s. Those houses on the 7th Street side, next to Washington DC's Eastern Market, had been bought by developers and turned into shops and stores.
"Mike Johnson Live! at Whiteys” [RCD38-032010] “Mike Johnson Live! at Royal Lee’s Deli” [RCD39-032010] -Arlington Virginia- and "Mike Johnson Live! at the Tucson Cafe & Southwest Tavern” [RCD40-032010] -Washington DC- came from a string of early 1980 performances run by his old musician friend Bob Ellis. These new releases gave Mike a total of 40 Roughshod Records CD releases in March 2010.

The year 2010 also saw the debut of Mike’s “Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” and “If This Old Tree Could Talk” as digital download Singles on CD Baby. Mike returned to the week-long August 2010 LeMars Old Time Country Music Festival where he met, among others, renowned DJ Smokey Smith, Cindy Cash [Johnny Cash's daughter], Sean Benz, the Rhythm Masters Jerry Roberts & Chan Miles, and yodelers Lonesome Ron Affolter, Naomi Bristol, and Kerry Christensen, among others. Old music friends Ben Steneker, Stew Clayton, Larry Harms and Gordon Wilcox were back.

In May 2010, he began receiving “rights” requests from Bart Plantenga for a number of photographs that Mike had taken of a number of yodelers for inclusion in his book, “Yodel In HiFi” in which Mike and his friend McDonald Craig are featured in the Black Yodelers section. Mike has been an ongoing subject of, and involved in, a number of Bart’s yodeling projects since they met in 2005. In 2006 Bart was also working on a movie documentary entitled “Drive-B Yodeling” for which Mike supplied a wealth requested video performances and truck driving sequences. The project was temporarily scrapped because of conflicts with one of the producer’s concepts. As of early 2011 the project is back on, this time with Bart Plantenga and his friend Mark Boswell producing.

In October 2010, Mike and the rest of world-wide movie Tarzan fans were sadden by the passing of Johnny Sheffield who played “Boy” in Johnny Weissmueller’s films, and more recently by the passing of Cheeta in December 2011. On 15 December Magnus Talib of the Swedish TV6 reality show contacted Mike to interest him in participating in their “99 Things to Do Before You Die” show and allow their hosts Erik and Mackan to hangout with him for a day and learn how to yodel. Unfortunately they had confused the two cities of “Arlington” and Mike, not able to get away at the time, referred them to his yodeling friend Janet McBride in Fort Worth Texas, closer to the “Arlington” they were going to.

Mike’s life continues to be a work-in-progress, revising and completing old projects and creating on new ones. The year 2011 proved to be a busy one full of old and new projects. Though he intentionally didn’t do too much local performing and missed out on the LeMars Festival, it was a small concession compared with the mission at hand. One of the most important one’s being the ongoing Library of Congress Mike Johnson video project. And on a sad note, his friend Wade Mainer, often referred to as the Grandfather of Bluegrass, passed away at the age of 104. As well as Geneva Sullivan, widow of Oscar Sullivan, of the Grand Ole Opry duo Oscar and Lonzo.

In June 2011 Mike received this email notice from Duncan Baker stating in part; “I am the owner of Sounds Essential Music, a music publishing business with a registered office in the United Kingdom and staff in New York, which seeks to secure outstanding monies generated through the replication, public performance, broadcasting and/or paid subscription service of copyrighted compositions in the United Kingdom. I recently came across some works and discovered through research that there are opportunities for you/the copyright holder of the composition to collect revenues earned within the United Kingdom...”

Baker was referring to the World Music Network “Rough Guide to Yodel” release of Mike’s song “Yeah I’m a Cowboy.” There had been problems securing royalties from this label and though the CD featuring 18 different yodelers was terminated only two years after its release, physical copies were, and are, still selling in brick & motar stores throughout Europe and as digital downloads. Even so, Mike first did some investigating to see if Sounds Essential was legit, and after substantial frustrating attempts to locate anyone who had ever heard of the outfit, Mike contacted the MCPS in the United Kingdom. Their data base revealed that Sounds Essential has been a registered small publisher member since March 2006 and was indeed authorized to collect mechanical royalties. For a 25% fee, that is. Mike turned down Duncan’s offer and joined the MCPS and licensed his song with them in August 2011. MCPS [Mechanical Copyright Protection Society] is a United Kingdom performing rights society similar to BMI and ASCAP in the US. They have the authority to collect up to seven years back royalties and in October 2011 informed Mike that their processing was complete and that they were sending the World Music Network an invoice for back royalties due.

In July 2011, a number of things transpired. Mike rejoined Sound Exchange, a royalty collection agency authorized to collect royalties from digital radio streaming and broadcasting sites, for performers and copyright owners. They have a listing of at least 20 of his song receiving radio airplay. In February 2011 Mike’s music began receiving spins from DJ Julie Matheson of Icarna Radio Station in Australia.
Mike managed to draw Bob Ellis out of a 20 year performance hiatus to perform at a couple of local Northern Virginia venues. Simply put, Bob hasn’t lost his touch! Bill Gibson, another of Mike’s music friend’s performed and posted a version of Mike’s song “I Never Learned To Play Guitar” on his own Youtube site. Bill is a very gifted musician who hosted a number of local musical events, including a long-running tenure as the Open Mic host at Tiffany Tavern in Old Town Alexandria.

The first phase of his Library of Congress video project was finally completed in December 2011. Sixteen [16] Mike Johnson Live! Special Edition DVDs featuring Mike Johnson performances were delivered to Recorded Sound Reference Center Official Janet McKee, who forwarded them to their Motion Picture & Television Broadcasting Division for cataloging and inclusion in their Moving Images collection. This is an ongoing follow-up to the Library's initial desire to obtain yodeling songs and music by an African American country singer and performer. The series starts with the second earliest video of Mike performing at the 1994 Michigan Jamboree in Hillsdale, Michigan shot by Johnny “J” Johnston of Sparta Michigan. The first know video of Mike occurred in 1982 on the Country Boy Eddie TV Show Channel 6 in Birmingham Alabama. Years of attempts to obtain that footage have gone unanswered. The remaining videos of this first batch span a period from 1996 to 1999 in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, concluding with Mike’s 2002 Hall of Fame Induction in Iowa and his 2005 participation at Bart Plantenga’s “9 Weird Stories About Yodeling” in New York. One of the videos that we thought had been lost or accidentally erased contains the only footage of one of Mike’s impromptu performances at our friend Jack Glover’s Cowboy Museum, in San Antonio Texas on 15 August 1999. Imagine our surprise when we discovered it! The next phase will be the Nashville footage, then following that, local Virginia performances, and other odd-ball stuff.

Mike reformatted and updated his discography book, and is constantly adding to his official music biography beyond the 45-page 8” x 11” edition that the Library of Congress has in it collection, with more details and more photographs in store. Also in December 2011 he reformatted the 2009 edition of his paperback novel "A Real Live Country Song" [about a hitch-hikin’ yodeling cowboy] for eBook distribution by Book Baby, a CD Baby affiliate. This was deliberately intended to be sort of a companion piece to Plantenga’s forthcoming “Yodel In HiFi” book. On 24 January 2012 BookBaby began distribution to its affiliates and Mike’s first eBook is currently available on the following sites; Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Apple iTunes. Links to these sites are on “Mike’s Book Store.”

Finally, as of this February 2012 update, Mike is in the final proof reading stages of the long, long, awaited novel “What the Jungle Saw” the first sequel to his 1979 “The Leopard’s Cub.” Completed in 1980 but never published, this action packed emotionally charged continues the saga of the leopard boy as he bonds with his American cousins, grieves over the death of his foster-mother, L’Naura the leopard who raised him, and sets out on the trail of the poachers who killed her to exact his bloody revenge. You think life in this jungle is rough, wait until he finishes the final edit and publishes “Deadly Vengeance” the third sequel, completed in 1985! A little known fact is that it didn’t take more than a month to write either of these works.
Why all these unfinished works you ask? Simply put, his music took off. Mike’s first love was always drawing pictures and writing stories. However, when he finally made the music commitment in 1981, he didn’t it expect it to take off like it did, so he did the smart thing. He went with it. He did revisit his art and literature endeavors from time to time and even managed to create some new works, but his music was working and he pursued it for all it was worth. After his 2003 neck injury Mike began to take a long hard look at the whole picture and decided that his music had basically peaked and that it was now time to refocus on his first loves. He has a number of books that, as he puts it, “the music interfered with” that he’s determined to get into print. Don’t get me wrong folks, he loves his music and you fans and friends that resulted from, but his first love was always his art and his writings. And he’s enjoying it!

While there have been other Black Yodelers among the numerous Minstrel and Stringband acts between 1880 and 1925, like the famous Monroe Tabor, Beulah Henderson, Charles Anderson, The Mississippi Sheiks. Then came his his personal friend, Korean War Veteran & Bronze Star recipient, McDonald Craig of Linden, Tennessee, who is also the only Black Yodeler to ever win First Place at an annual [1978] Jimmie Rodgers Yodeling Contest held in Meridian Mississippi by the Jimmie Rodgers Museum. Stoney Edwards and Linda Martel yodeled some, but none of them however, have demonstrated Mike's unique versatility in combining the Jimmie Rodgers, Cowboy, and Swiss yodeling styles.

YouTube has been an invaluable promotional tool for Mike. However, having met so many wonderful and talented musicians over the years he decided that it would be a sin to keep them tucked away in a storage bin. A wonderful extension of his expired Top-Rail Chatter magazine, Mike’s youtube site currently contains over 330 videos featuring Mike, some of his music friends, some of his truck driving trips, and a number of promotional videos for his music and books, and friends’ businesses, like Lawrence Record Shop in Nashville, and Jim & Bev Lilo, a singing duo from Mansfield, Ohio. Finally getting a small break from his major projects Mike found time to extract some video footage of more performers for editing and posting.
Mike ended December 2011 with the posting of his song “A Tit is a Tit is a Tit.” January 2012 began immediately with the posting of 9 Mike Johnson songs, one of them the “Dog Pound Yodel” scheduled for release on one of Bart Plantenga’s forthcoming yodeling CD projects. It ain’t over till it’s over!

So there you have it. Mike Johnson! Man of many hats, but always Mike Johnson!
Joe Arnold, Roughshod Records P.O. Box 100933 Arlington Va. 22210 [] Mike Johnson: []