Biography of Jamey Johnson

The Road to Success Was Long and Winding for This Country Musician

Jamey Johnson playing the guitar

Jason Davis/Stringer/Getty Images


Jamey Johnson is an award-winning singer-songwriter who rose to the top of country music through fierce dedication to his craft and a never-give-up attitude. A life-long musician and performer, this former Marine first made his name in Music City as a songwriter. Never content to remain behind the scenes, Johnson didn't give up his on his dream to become a successful recording artist and performer. With two critically acclaimed albums under his belt, a truckload of awards and nominations and sold-out performances in venues that keep getting bigger and bigger, Johnson is a welcome throwback to artists like Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams.

Origins and Early Musical Experiences

Born on July 14, 1975, in Enterprise, Alabama, and raised in nearby Montgomery, Johnson was heavily influenced as a kid by the musical legends of his home state—Hank Williams, Vern Gosdin, Alan Jackson and Alabama. He was also a big Jennings fan. Johnson grew up poor, but music was always a part of his family’s life. His first real taste of performing in front of people was when he and his father got up in church and sing gospel.

When Johnson was a teenager, he saved enough money to buy an Epiphone acoustic guitar, which he named Old Maple. He and his buddies loaded up on beer and headed over to Williams’ gravesite in Montgomery to drink and play country songs. Old Maple, which Johnson still owns and plays, still has the mark where he accidentally dropped it on Williams’ tombstone. Though Johnson admits to a somewhat backwoods upbringing, he was always serious about music and studied music theory in junior high school. After high school and two years at Jacksonville State University, Johnson dropped out and joined the Marine Corps, where he spent eight years in the Reserves. His unit was sent to Iraq the week he was honorably discharged.

Johnson’s Songwriting Opens Doors

After leaving the Marines, Johnson performed in nightclubs around Montgomery and opened up one show for David Allan Coe. In 2000, he spent all the money he had to move to Nashville. He worked various jobs to make ends meet. He also owned his own successful construction company for a few years. All the while, he worked on his music and made contacts in Nashville. One of those early contacts was Greg Perkins, a former fiddle player for Tanya Tucker. With Perkins' help, he recorded some demo tapes, including a duet with Gretchen Wilson, who was also trying to get into the business.

Johnson eventually met famed producer and songwriter Buddy Cannon, who was floored by his music, and music publisher Gary Overton signed Johnson to a publishing deal with EMI Music. Johnson’s first major success as a songwriter came in 2005 when Trace Adkins took his song “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. During that time, Cannon and Overton worked hard to land Johnson a recording deal, which he received when BNA signed him. His debut single, 2005’s “The Dollar,” climbed to No. 14 on the Hot Country Songs chart. His debut album of the same name was released in 2006 and though critically acclaimed, it didn’t make a huge splash and he was subsequently dropped from BNA.

Songwriting Kept Paying the Bills

After being dropped from BNA, Johnson took some time off to work on his music and reflect on his life. He gave up drinking for a year and later acknowledged that his wild reputation probably had a hand in BNA dropping him from the label. “They thought I was a little too wild,” Johnson wrote on his website. “They did what they had to do. If I was in their position, I’d have probably done the same thing.” Though he’d lost his recording deal, his songwriting was still paying off handsomely.

George Strait’s recording of “Give It Away,” which Johnson co-wrote with Hall of Famer Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and Cannon, became Strait’s 41st No. 1 Billboard country hit, which handed Strait the all-time chart record. Adkins recorded and released a couple more Johnson songs, including “I Got My Game On” (No. 34 on the chart) and “Ladies Love Country Boys,” which became Adkins’ second No. 1 hit. Joe Nichols also cut two of Johnson’s songs, including “She’s All Lady” and “Another Side of You” (No. 17).

That Lonesome Song Goes Gold

Post-BNA, Johnson began independently working on a new collection of songs that would eventually become his album "That Lonesome Song." When the project was complete, folks on Music Row loved what they heard. A couple of record companies approached Johnson, but they wanted him to re-record some of the songs as well as cut a few more by other songwriters. He turned them down. Then when Luke Lewis at Mercury Records heard the album, he told Johnson not to touch a thing, and he was quickly signed.

In 2008, That Lonesome Song was released, and the praise was instantaneous. Rave reviews rolled in from Rolling Stone and The New York Times. The album picked up five Grammy nominations, three from the Country Music Association and two from the Academy of Country Music. His single “In Color” won Song of the Year honors from both the CMAs and the ACMs.

Most Popular Jamey Johnson Songs

  • "In Color”
  • “The Dollar”
  • “High Cost of Living”

Jamey Johnson Discography

  • They Call Me Country
  • The Dollar
  • That Lonesome Song
  • The Guitar Song
  • Living for Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran