Archive for Sunday, June 28, 1992

SONGWRITER EMERGES FROM HIS OWN WORLD

June 28, 1992

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Freedy Johnston is the unlikeliest of pop and country singers.

Born in Kinsley, Johnston spent six years in Lawrence and another three in New York City, writing and recording songs in the privacy of his own home, not daring to take a stab at performing them for the general public.

Now, however, Johnston has conquered his stage fright, holds a record deal with Bar None Records and plans to tour the United States and Holland.

So how does he feel about his arrival on the world's music scene?

"It makes me pretty happy,'' he said. "I mean I'm pretty humble about it. I'm not any big seeker of praise.''

Johnston, has release three albums on Bar None, including the latest "Can You Fly.'' The latest recording has caught the ears of the critics.

"DELIVERED IN a high, reedy tenor, Johnston's picturesque narratives ride comfortably aboard tunes that boast a rough-hewed charm,'' wrote Michael Azerrad in the Nov. 1, 1990, issue of Rolling Stone magazine. "His troubled vignettes, detailing the emotional consequences of Midwestern strife, suggest that those amber waves of grain have a powerful undertow.''

In a telephone interview from his home in Hoboken, N.J., Johnston said he grew up listening mainly to country music the music that was on the radio around the home. He later picked up on the 1970s pop and rock sounds of the Rolling Stones and others, and in his mid-teens he acquired a guitar. But unlike many of his peers, the music of his life failed to propel him in front of an audience.

"I GOT A guitar when I was 16, and now I'm 31, so it's been 15 years since I started playing,'' he said. "It took me awhile to perform, it was a slow process. I used to play a lot on my own and I didn't play for anyone for quite a while.''

He spent one semester at Kansas University and then six years working as a Lawrence waiter. He played in a band briefly, but it broke up after only three or four gigs. Then in 1985, mainly for a change of scene, he moved to New York. He worked a number of odd jobs and kept singing into a four-track recorder.

"I had a day job and I made tapes at home at that time,'' he said. "I didn't perform live at all, not that I tried, I was more of a hobbyist with secret goals of making it sometime. But I kept sending tapes to my friends, and my friends in Lawrence all really liked them, and they tried to talk me into getting them together.

"SO IN 1988 I was living in New York, and I came back to Lawrence to do a demo tape. We got a band together we practiced for one month, we played at the Bottleneck and we went to Kansas City to do a demo tape. At that time I had it taken out of my hands. I didn't want to release it, but someone persuaded me to make a duplicate of it and send it off. That's what happened.''

Although critics praise the words to his ballads, Johnston puts off writing lyrics until the very end of the creative process.

"I work pretty slowly,'' he said. "I come up with the music first, and I'm always playing the guitar putting songs together. Then I wait until the song is almost done to write the lyrics.''

He's not necessarily dedicated to performing all his works himself he recently made contact with country performers to bring his music to their attention. But as befits a man who was so shy about bringing his music to the world in general, Johnston doesn't like to talk about what his songs mean or why they sound that way.

"It's not for me to say (what my music is),'' he said. "It's other people's job to describe it. I write basically pop or sometimes soul and pop-country. I try to hit a lot of bases.''

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