Touring with Aerosmith, new solo CD have Alabama’s Buck Johnson living rock-star dream
By Alec Harvey
July 8, 2016
Buck Johnson might be having a mid-life crisis.
But it’s not like your run-of-the-mill find-a-sportier-car-or-younger-wife mid-life crisis.
“Instead of buying a Corvette, I get to tour with Aerosmith,” says Johnson, the Alabama-born musician who turns 50 in November.
Add to that this week’s release of a solo album, “Enjoying the Ride,” and you’ve got a full-fledged rock-and-roll change of life for the man who grew up in Shady Grove singing gospel music with his family.
After graduating from Minor High School and Birmingham-Southern College, where he met his wife, former Miss Alabama Kym Williams Johnson, he spent years playing rock ‘n’ roll, country and other kinds of music in bars and at festivals around the region. He co-wrote Carlos Santana’s hit “Just Feel Better” and twice made the top 40 while a member of the country band Whiskey Falls.
Since 2006, the Johnsons have made their home in Nashville, with Buck co-writing songs and touring with musicians such as the Doobie Brothers and John Waite, and Kym running Music City Music Together, a thriving music and singing franchise for mothers and babies.
Johnson had heard around Easter 2014 that Aerosmith was looking for a keyboard player, but it wasn’t until he was visiting Birmingham for Mother’s Day that year that he got the call. Literally, a call from Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, which resulted in Johnson boarding a plane for Istanbul the next day.
After staying up all night on the flight “studying and cramming” and learning everything he could about Aerosmith’s music, Johnson checked into his hotel and went straight to the venue to meet with Tyler.
“I sat with him in his dressing room with an acoustic guitar, and the first song we played was ‘Cryin’,’ which has the highest parts,” Johnson recalls. “He wanted to be sure I could sing it. We got into it, and he just stopped and got emotional and said, ‘Where have you been?’ I said, ‘Waiting for the moment to happen.’”
In the wake of a mining disaster that killed hundreds in Turkey, Aerosmith canceled that concert in Istanbul, but Johnson took the stage with the band a few nights later in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“To get on stage in front of 20,000 people, and you’re playing with Aerosmith, you’re pinching yourself saying, ‘Just don’t mess up,’” Johnson says. “It was nothing short of a dream come true. I had the support of my family and my parents, and I wouldn’t be where I am without my wife, Kym. I already won the lottery in that regard.”
Johnson has toured with Aerosmith since 2014, and he plans to be with them when they start what Tyler has called a “farewell tour” in 2017.
During breaks, Johnson has toured with others (like Whitford/St. Homes, featuring Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford and Ted Nugent vocalist Derek St. Holmes) and performed with the Birmingham-based Black Jacket Symphony.
He has also continued to co-write songs in Nashville with longtime collaborator Charlie Midnight (“Living in America”) and others, including fellow former Birmingham singer-songwriter Alice Bargeron, who also lives in Nashville.
“As a collaborator, he’s the guy you go to when you need the song ‘elevated,’” Bargeron says. “If something’s missing, he’ll identify it and turn the whole thing around.
“The thing about him that most people might not realize is how multi-dimensional his talent is,” she adds. “I’ve worked with him for years and continue to be astounded by his versatility as a vocalist. He can sing any style flawlessly.”
“Enjoying the Ride,” Johnson’s solo debut, has been in the works for several years.
With songs by Johnson and Midnight, the album has been shopped around for a while.
“Right before I got the Aerosmith gig, there was a label out of Charleston, S.C., called Spectra, who loved it and wanted to put it out,” Johnson says. “Then I took off for Istanbul out of the blue, and we put on the brakes again.”
Spectra is still the label behind “Enjoying the Ride,” which Johnson is hesitant to describe.
“I don’t want to say Southern rock, because people immediately think Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it’s really not that,” he says. “It’s American rock ‘n’ roll that has some Southern in it, some country in it and some rock in it. Let the listener decide.”
Johnson just wants to continue playing, and he says that although he had some success early on, his long career has helped him maneuver the major successes of the past few years.
“Everyone has their place and time,” he says. “I was always working, but nothing of the magnitude of an Aerosmith thing. It took years of sticking with it, with some luck along the way.”
Before I go I must hand out the employee of the week honors. This week the honor goes to touring keyboard and background vocalist Buck Johnson. Buck comes from the back roads of Shady Grove Alabama and his connection with Steven Tyler came about 8 years before he started tickling the ivories with the bad boys. Buck co-wrote the song “Just Feel Better” that Steven sang with Carlos Santana in 2005. Buck is no stranger to the charts himself. As a member of the band Whiskey Falls scored 2 top 40-country singles that were released from their 2007 debut album. He will continue to bring his professionalism to the big stage along with his boyish good looks. He’s a great player and even greater guy so for that he earns Employee of the Week!
- JOHN B., 30-year Veteran Road Manager of Aerosmith
HOUSTON PRESS | Concert Review: Houston, TX, August 2014
Keyboardist Buck Johnson sweetened up Tyler's vocals very nicely on a lot of the more challenging material. Definitely an essential member of the band in 2014.
- NATHAN SMITH, Houston Press
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER | Concert Review: LA, CA, July 2014
With Tyler's pleading vocals doubled by auxiliary keyboardist Buck Johnson, who also supplied the songs elegant piano runs, it gave the hardcore fans just what they were looking for.
- CRAIG ROSEN, The Hollywood Reporter
PHOENIX NEW TIMES | Concert Review: Glendale, AZ, June 2015
The scream led into 'Love in an Elevator,' one of many hits the band would play. Musically, the band brought all five longterm members (in addition to Tyler: lead guitarist Joe Perry, drummer Joey Kramer, rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, and bassist Tom Hamilton)and an unsung MVP, keyboard player Buck Johnson.
- DAVID ACCOMAZZO, The Phoenix New Times
EXAMINER | Concert Review: Glendale, AZ, June 2015
The song also featured the work of tour keyboard player, Buck Johnson, who was solid on his playing and background vocals all night.
- TED HANSEN, The Examiner
ACCESS ATLANTA | Concert Review: Atlanta, GA, August 2014
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC | Concert Review: Glendale, AZ, June 2015
Buck Johnson or Burly Clyde? Either way, he's a busy singer-songwriter from Alabama
The Birmingham News paid homage to their hometown celeb by getting up close and personal with Buck for an interview back in 2012. Check out his full interview at THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS online. - MARY COLURSO