Jamey Johnson doesn’t need a team of researchers or high-tech pollsters to determine the direction of his music. The Alabama outlaw poet knows the data they collect can be manipulated a million different ways and the false information could lead to a string of career-ending bad decisions.
Instead, he has the creative process down to a much more exact science. He shakes hands and drinks a few beers with fans after every concert, getting valuable input from the most important source, then focuses on meticulously constructing a recorded product the people have requested.
The result of this process is his new album “Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran,” a 16-song collection re-leased Oct. 23 to overwhelming critical acclaim. It includes guest appearances by George Strait, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Ronnie Dunn and many others.
Cochran died of pancreatic cancer in 2010. Before he left, he became a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, thanks to a incredible catalog of material that included classics like “I Fall to Pieces,” “Make the World Go Away,” “A-11,” “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me” and “Would These Arms Be in Your Way.”
Johnson will sing tunes from the new album, plus hits like “In Color” and “The Dollar,” when he appears at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at The Carson Center in Paducah. Tickets are $45, $35 and $30 and can be ordered by calling 270-450-4444. Wayne Mills and Chris Hennessee will serve as opening acts for the Paducah concert.
Johnson first met the iconic tunesmith Cochran in 2008. At the time, Johnson was a rising star in Music City. He had released the act-breaking album “That Lonesome Song” and had just inked the George Strait hit “Give It Away.” The two phenomenal writers quickly became close friends.
Johnson’s popularity skyrocketed as Cochran’s health was failing. Jamey would roll his tour bus up the hospital at the end of each concert run for a visit.
Veteran producer Buddy Cannon called Johnson one night and said Cochran was slipping fast. Making a quick trip to the faltering songwriter’s home, Johnson joined a group of singers including Billy Ray Cyrus and they sang classic Coch-ran songs to Hank just hours before he died.
The 37-year-old Johnson was raised in Montgomery, Ala, and played music in clubs around his hometown for years, before migrating to Nashville in 2000.
He made contacts in the business for five years, then seemed to break out by writing dance club anthem “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” for Trace Adkins. He also secured his own record deal, releasing “The Dollar.”
However, when follow-up single “Rebellious” bombed, Johnson lost his record deal and he went into seclusion. During the solitude, he went on a writing frenzy and hits began to flow again from his pen, including instant classic “Give It Away” for George Strait. The tune was selected Song of The Year by both the Country Music Association and the Acad-emy of Country Music in 2007
He developed the “my way or the highway” attitude of his hero Waylon Jennings. And he proved his way was the right way with the release of “That Lonesome Sound” in 2008. The album contained “In Color,” for which he again won Song of the Year from both the CMA and ACM in 2009.
VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.