Maybe one of the most unexpected holiday gifts last year was the Christmas-themed EP, The Christmas Song, a touching compilation by the Grammy-nominated country singer and songwriter, Jamey Johnson – a former Marine and Veterans Advantage’s latest CelebVet.
So taken aback was Rolling Stone Magazine in 2014, that they reported the EP by saying, “When [Johnson] announced he was releasing a Christmas project, we couldn’t have been more surprised if – to quote Clark Griswold – we woke up with our heads sewn to the carpet.”
The five-track EP, which included the first song written by Johnson in four years – South Alabam Christmas – was released on his newly-formed label, Big Gassed Records, and continued the Alabama native’s streak of musical excellence. Only available online at the time, the iTunes album review praised the festive work, noting that even though Johnson was such a “strong persona” in the industry, “The Christmas Song, with its gentleness, levity, sincerity, and love of tradition, is a welcome addition to his catalog and to any holiday collection.”
Johnson’s catalog of outstanding country music started back in 2005 when his debut single The Dollar was released, followed by an album of the same name in 2006. In two different songs on that album, Johnson made reference to his service in the Marine Corps Reserve with which he spent eight years as a mortarman in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines.
Memories of Marine Service
In more recent interviews, the now long-haired and bearded Johnson spoke highly of his time as a disciplined Marine reservist. As he told CMT in 2010, “I’m very proud to have served in the Marines...They gave me guidance and stability. I’d wake up every day and have a purpose.”
During those years, Johnson met and played with a number of musicians in the military community, one of whom was his road manager at the time of the CMT interview.
“His family is like my family. All the time when I travel around to Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, I see the guys I traveled around with when I was in the Marines. They are still like family,” Johnson said.
The years following the release of The Dollar proved to be a bit of a roller coaster ride after Johnson’s second single failed to make the charts. He was then dropped from his record deal, divorced his wife and took on a reclusive lifestyle to focus on his music. But that hard time brought out some of the best in Johnson’s songwriting and he went on to co-write hits for other artists, including George Strait (Give It Away), Trace Adkins (Ladies Love Country Boys and I Got My Game On) and Joe Nichols (Another Side of You).
In 2008, Johnson released his own work in an album online, earning him the attention of Mercury Nashville Records with which he signed a record deal that same year. That Lonesome Song was released on CD in August 2008 and has since been certified platinum, selling more than 1 million copies. Johnson was nominated for the 2009 CMA Awards New Artist of the Year and 2010 Academy of Country Music Top New Solo Vocalist before receiving three Grammy Award nominations for Best Country Album, Best Country Song and Best Male Country Vocal Performance. His single In Color won Song of the Year from both the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Awards, and in 2010, he received two more Grammy nominations for his single High Cost of Living.
To say the least, it was a break-out year for Johnson, who was hailed as “one of the greatest country singers of our time” by the Washington Post. His following album, The Guitar Song, would see similar success, debuting at number one on the U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums in 2010. Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe called The Guitar Song “A towering achievement from a country singer-songwriter whose talent for penning vivid narratives and choosing the right ones to cover appears to be growing exponentially.”
In 2012 came Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran, earning Johnson yet another Grammy nomination for Best Country Album. Johnson then parted ways with his record label and founded Big Gassed Records and recorded The Christmas Song in 2014. The track list included covers of Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Frank Loesser, Mele Kalikimaka by Robert Alexander Anderson, Pretty Paper by Willie Nelson and The Christmas Song by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé – best recognized as performed by Nat King Cole. Johnson’s own song, South Alabam Christmas, spoke of his holiday memories and upbringing in Montgomery, Alabama, where they seldom saw any snow on Christmas.
“And when I was a young kid, it would confuse me and my sister as to how Santa would make it into our trailer because we didn’t have a chimney or a fireplace, and the song deals with that too,” said Johnson in a release regarding the album on his own website.
The Christmas Song was a creative twist and exemplary record in the musical career of this former Marine. The EP was celebrated by his fans, who can now access Johnson’s music directly from his website and who are hungrily awaiting more in 2016.
Image courtesy of JameyJohnson.com