Tributes, original songs on Jamey Johnson’s playlist

02/21/2013 1:39 PM

02/21/2013 1:40 PM

Fans are finding Jamey Johnson — raw, edgy and uncompromising — to be a refreshing blast of fresh air in Music City.

The Alabama native, who will perform Friday at the Cotillion, sounds like he’s been at it for a half-century. But he hit creative pay dirt with his first album, 2006’s “The Dollar.”

Singles “Rebelicious” and “She’s All Lady” gave country music fans a hint of what they would receive in the future.

“I like to write songs, but I’m fine with just singing a good song,” Johnson said.

That explains Johnson’s “Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran,” which dropped in October. Johnson and an all-star cast belt out songs penned by the legendary Cochran, who died in 2010. The star power generated by Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Merle Haggard is superseded by the sturdy compositions.

“I think it’s important to tip your hat to those who have made such an impact,” Johnson said.

Tribute albums aren’t easy to nail. But Johnson knocks this out of the park. That’s not as surprising as his choice to follow up the Grammy-nominated 2010 album “Guitar Song,” which went gold. Most recording artists would have gone the safe route and repeated “Guitar Song” or made a conventional album.

“But I don’t want to do what I just did,” Johnson said. “There’s no point in that. I like to move on. That’s what so many people I admire did.”

While growing up in Montgomery, Ala., Johnson heard all about the iconic Hank Williams, whom he reveres.

“When you grow up in Alabama, you can’t help but hear about Hank Williams,” Johnson said. “One of the first songs I learned how to play was a Hank Williams song. My dad had a couple of Hank Williams music books around the house when I was a kid, and I learned it from there, and I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Hank Williams and his music. That led me to Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and John Conlee.”

If Johnson comes across as a tough guy, well, he is just that. He dropped out of college and joined the Marines.

“I enjoyed it, but I also couldn’t wait to get out,” Johnson said. “I was ready to go (to the Middle East), but I got my discharge papers the same week as friends got the call to go overseas. I think I’m better suited doing what I’m doing than being a soldier. I get to play music for a living, which is amazing. I’m incredibly fortunate.”

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