“Scott Albert Johnson manhandles his harmonica with a master’s flair. He is a triple-threat artist who can sing, write and blow his emotions clear on out of his harmonica like nobody’s business.”
“Scott Albert Johnson is a great songwriter. He writes about man's journey: who we are, where we stand and where our lives take us. His musings about life are cast in clever melodies, sung by a voice that seemingly knows no limitations. He is extremely versatile on the harmonica… sometimes you hear the influence of Toots Thielemans, then Howard Levy, and then Stevie Wonder. Johnson has made another excellent record.”
"Scott Albert Johnson’s new record Going Somewhere knocks me out. The songs are memorable, the singing intense, and the harmonica new and powerful... It’s the most daring rock harmonica record since Blues Traveler came along to shake everybody up with a completely different take on the instrument."
Richard Hunter, author of Jazz Harp (the original instructional book on jazzharmonica), hunterharp.com
Born in St. Louis and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Scott Albert Johnson was bathed in the wide range of the American songbook, as well as the sounds of his 1970’s and 80’s childhood. The soul and spirit of that diversity is at the core of his new album, Going Somewhere. Johnson incorporates elements of rock, jazz, blues, funk, country, and world music, mixed with thoughtful, often poetic lyrics, strong vocals, and virtuosic harmonica playing, to create a unique, modern concoction of sound.
“I’m influenced by almost every kind of music that I’ve ever heard,” says Johnson. “Growing up in the heart of the South, obviously blues has had a big impact on me. It’s also the heart and soul of virtually every type of modern music. But I also grew up a big fan of artists like Peter Gabriel, the Police, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Bruce Hornsby, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Daniel Lanois, John Scofield, and Rush, just to name a few. So I draw on all of that, and I try to write lyrics and music that have an emotional as well as intellectual impact. Then I throw in some harmonica for good measure.”
Johnson has become a true harmonica master, utilizing a unique and difficult technique known as “overblow,” which allows the diatonic harmonica to be played as a fully chromatic instrument. He is one of a small group of players who can do this. He also utilizes digital effects to expand the sonic palette of the instrument, and he counts such harmonica masters as Toots Thielemans, John Popper, Howard Levy, Stevie Wonder, and the late Chris Michalek as major influences. Yet Johnson sees the harmonica as just one piece of what he does musically.
“I've always felt most influenced by 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.”
Johnson grew up singing and playing bass guitar in rock and jazz bands. He went to Harvard (where he kicked field goals for the football team) and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and worked as a writer and editor in locations from coast to coast before finding his way back to both music and Jackson. “I always say that the two best decisions of my life were leaving Mississippi and coming back to Mississippi,” he says. “By leaving, I was able to have some amazing experiences and learn about life. By coming back, I was able to connect with my wife, have an amazing family, be closer to my parents, and immerse myself in the musical heritage of the cradle of American music.
“One of the things I love about Jackson is that we have a very strong and cohesive arts community here,” Johnson continues. “I think it is very important for musicians to support each other and to view the making of music as a joyous activity. It's good to set high standards and goals for oneself. But I think we need to celebrate the work of our cohorts as well, and I am grateful to be part of a music scene where people do that. Plus, there are some monster musicians here."
Like many of Johnson’s musical inspirations, his songs are inquisitive and thought-provoking, with his warm, rich voice and world-class harmonica playing on constant display. With his latest release, Going Somewhere (the long-awaited follow-up to his 2007 release, Umbrella Man, which received excellent reviews in the U.S. and abroad), Johnson’s songs evoke a common theme of “going somewhere” – or not – as individuals, partners, nations, or as a common species.
“If I Only Knew the Words” deals with songwriting and communication in relationships, and how they can both be stymied despite the best of intentions. “All” takes on the modern dead-end obsession with acquiring more and more “stuff.” “Jailbird” is the tale of a lifetime convict who’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. One of two covers on the album is Peter Gabriel’s “I Don’t Remember,” an account of interrogation and surveillance that remains as relevant today as it was during the Cold War. “Simply Human” addresses the emergence of artificial intelligence and the ever-grayer divide between machine and man. The album’s musical personnel includes some of Mississippi’s finest musicians, as well as New Orleans funk stalwarts Robert Mercurio and Jeff Raines (from GALACTIC) on the title track.
Johnson, who has spent much of the seven years since his debut release helping his wife to raise their three children, is excited about this next step in his musical evolution. He expresses gratitude for the ability to make music. “My wife has always been there to encourage me; she is a wonderful photographer and understands the need to express oneself creatively,” he says. “I was also very lucky to grow up with parents who always believed in me even when they didn't understand what I was trying to do.
“I believe that the art of making music and writing songs, as well as the appreciation and sharing of this music, is one of the most powerful links to our common humanity. It’s the sonic manifestation of joyous, soul-enriching fulfillment.”
NAMED one of the “Hot 100” Harmonica Players worldwide by The Harmonica Company (U.K.)
WINNER, 2013-2014 Performing Arts Fellowship, Mississippi Arts Commission
“Scott Albert Johnson's unique sound is irresistible and virtuosic in its breadth. Umbrella Man is a work of rare beauty and innovation. Rich, bluesy, and played with a heartfelt passion for the musical craft, his songs come as a refreshing challenge to a scene stifled by genre.” (Tuesday Magazine)
Scott Albert Johnson has performed and/or recorded with such artists as
Marty Stuart · James Burton · Mike Mills (R.E.M.) · Johnny Vidacovich · Jerry Jemmott
Good Enough for Good Times · Jerry Joseph · Williams Brothers · Bloodkin · Dorothy Moore
Scott Albert Johnson plays Seydel Harmonicas.