Jamey Johnson accepted a gold plaque for his album, That Lonesome Song, on the rooftop deck of Nashville’s BMI office on Tuesday evening (May 19). Universal Music Group Nashville chairman Luke Lewis, who heads Johnson’s record label, preceded the formal presentation by telling the industry crowd, “I’ve been selling records for 35 years, and this is probably the proudest moment of my career.”
Johnson approached Lewis and replied, “I’ve been making records for about four years, and this is my proudest moment, too.” Johnson also presented Lewis with a flask — which was notably unfilled.
With gold parties becoming fewer and fewer on Music Row, Johnson’s triumph was reason to celebrate. Because Johnson’s rugged rendition of country music sometimes seems straight out of the 1970s, Lewis said some radio programmers were reluctant to put it in the mix of contemporary country. However, everyone at the label made it a personal mission to make sure the album succeeded. On the strength of one single, “In Color,” as well as extensive media praise, Johnson’s album shipped 500,000 copies. His current single is “High Cost of Living.”
Along with music publishing and label executives, several notable songwriters and country artists were spotted in the crowd, including Bill Anderson, Hank Cochran, Little Big Town‘s Phillip Sweet and Kimberly Schlapman, Alabama‘s Teddy Gentry and the Oak Ridge Boys. In addition, a string of musicians who played on That Lonesome Song — which was recorded independently and later released on Mercury Records — lined up to accept their gold plaques, too. Johnson playfully refers to these musicians as the Kent Hardly Playboys.
Prior to the party, the soft-spoken Johnson visited with a handful of reporters and talked about the achievement.
“I don’t even know what to say, except ‘Thank you,'” he said. “Every single person that was on the record, everybody who comes out to our shows … we’ll keep trying to keep making the best country music records we know how to make, and you can expect nothing less from me in the future.”
Johnson said many of his recording sessions lasted late into the night.
“Most of them, we just start somewhere and we don’t stop until everybody’s exhausted and just can’t go any further,” he explained. “I think down in Key West, we went about 18 hours — and there’s nothing better. When you’re in a studio with a bunch of musicians who absolutely love what they do, it’s hard to call it quits at any point. So, yeah, most of our sessions are marathon sessions, I guess, if you look at the grand scheme of things. We really enjoy it, and it doesn’t feel like work when you love it that much.”
In advance of Memorial Day weekend, Johnson also took a moment to explain the connection between the military and country music. Johnson served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1994 to 2002.
“I think the roots of country people run deep in the military and especially in country music,” he said. “We’re all kind of the same team. There’s nobody who appreciates it nearly as much as the man or woman who’s ready to go overseas and fight. In my opinion, the other genres of music don’t do as much as country music as far as appealing to those people because we do tend to write songs about the roots of American society. It’s still entertaining. It still covers a lot of different bases, but it does tend to be focused on American roots.”
Just before wrapping up the interview, a reporter asked Johnson what mark he was trying to leave in country music.
“I’d love to sit here and tell you I have some glamorous ambition of success or whatever, but I have none of that,” he said. “I don’t know that any one person around here can change anything. But I know that what all of us should be striving for is to make country music the family that it used to be and not this competitive sport that it’s turned into these days.
“For me it’s an honor, as an artist, to have other artists at this party with us today. You know, friends that are not focused on, ‘How did he get a gold album when I don’t have a gold album?’ Just friends. Everybody comes out to celebrate it together. To me, that’s what it’s supposed to be like. We’re all in this together. I think by the time it’s all said and done, nobody’s going to remember who sold more records or who had the most No. 1’s. Hell, half of the No. 1’s today, you’re not going to remember the song 20 years from now. So in the grand scheme of things, what’s it going to matter? I think what’s going to matter is relationships when we get old and gray. We want to look around and be proud of the people we got to work with while we were the key players in the music business.”View photos from Jamey Johnson’s gold party.