Singer Michael Johnson, whose mellow “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder” topped the country charts in 1986-87, died Tuesday (July 25) in Minneapolis after a long illness. He was 72.
Prior to moving into the country format, the Colorado-born Johnson had enjoyed pop success with “Bluer Than Blue” (No. 12, 1978) and “This Night Won’t Last Forever” (No. 19, 1979).
Johnson was also renowned for his guitar playing, having early in his career studied classical guitar techniques in Barcelona under Graciano and Renata Tarrago.
On his way to becoming a solo act, Johnson performed in such folk groups as the New Society, the Chad Mitchell Trio and (with former Chad Mitchell alumnus John Denver) Denver, Boise & Johnson.
He released his first album, There Is a Breeze, for Atco Records in 1973 and followed it with For All You Mad Musicians (1975) and Aint Dis Da Life (1977).
It was with the aid of Nashville musicians and producers Brent Maher and Steve Gibson that Johnson gained national attention via “Bluer Than Blue,” which was released on EMI America, as were all three of his other charted pop singles.
In 1985, he signed with RCA’s country division. His first single for the new label was a duet with Sylvia called “I Love You by Heart.” It peaked at No. 9. Besides his two No. 1’s noted above, Johnson scored the Top 5 “Crying Shame” and the Top 10 “I Will Whisper Your Name” and “That’s That.”
His final chart single, “Roller Coaster Run,” came in 1989, although he would go on to record over the next 24 years for such labels as Atlantic, Vanguard, Intersound, Razor & Tie, Yellow Rose and Redhouse.
In 2007, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He continued to perform in concerts until shortly before his death.