For Calgary singer/songwriter, Ralph Boyd Johnson, there is comfort in numbers, as is evident in his album 1723 9th Street S.W., which is nearing completion and might be the most meaningful album of his career thus far.
Johnson is carting his countrified, eclectic self to co-headline the final show of the season for the Cochrane Valley Folk Club (CVFC) on April 14 for ‘Alberta Night’ with T. Buckley et al.
His current project, named after a well-known house in Calgary, which was home to countless musicians over the years, carries with it a flood of memories.
“The record is dedicated to Wild Billy C.,” Johnson wistfully noted, referring to his beloved dear friend, fellow musician, band mate and former producer, who passed away in 2006, after battling a host of health issues.
“There were a whole bunch of us musicians who lived in that house,” said Johnson, mentioning well-known Calgary fixtures on the music scene such as the late Back Alley John (renowned harmonica player), Duris Maxwell (former drummer of the Powder Blues Band and other well-known rock and blues groups) and the late Billy Cowsill (famed American musician and producer), among many others.
“Last year, the house became a heritage house,” explained Johnson, relaying the nearly tragic story of how the house of legends was moments away from being bulldozed.
“This has been a wild journey for me — when I lived in that house, I was like a kid in a candy store,” laughed the veteran musician, who cut his chops with the pros and found a home among fellow musicians in his home of Calgary.
Comfortable under the expansive umbrella of ‘singer/songwriter’ Johnson said his influences and experiences are vast and many, and while some call it country, it’s a little bit of everything.
“We all need to find a home to be successful at this . . . with me, I don’t know, I’m kind of like a nomad,” said Johnson. “I can play country songs beside country players and blues songs beside blues players — it’s just my interpretation of that song.”
With a sound often compared to the likes of Steve Earle, Fred Eaglesmith and John Prine, Johnson said he’s kept afloat throughout the rollercoaster ride that really is the music business by “trying to scratch out a living and endeavouring to persevere.”
It’s been 10 years since Johnson released his debut album of original material, Dyin’ To Go. Produced by the late Billy Cowsill and well-known Delta bluesman and producer, Tim Williams, Johnson hopes his fans will agree that 1723 9th Street S.W. was worth the wait.
He also said this album is catapulting his music career back into the driver’s seat.
“My goal is to release a record every nine months . . . it’s just a furious pace out there and you have to have a reason for being up there on stage,” he said, adding that while he awaits the mastering of his upcoming album, he is already working on an acoustic compilation, which will be called Songs from the Bunker.
With full understanding of the trials and tribulations of the music business of today — limited rooms in which to play and an absence in viable pay, Johnson said it can’t discourage those who are meant to create from doing so.
Johnson will be accompanied by multi-instrumentalist, ‘Dangerous Stevie D’ on April 14 for the final CVFC show of the season. Also headlining that evening is roots power trio, the T. Buckley band.