Five years ago, Neil Gregory Johnson took a leap of faith. He had spent nearly a decade as a local part-time musician, making more money with his nighttime performances than at the odd jobs he did to earn a living. With a deep breath and a lot of local support, Johnson decided to focus full-time on creating music.
Johnson comes from a family of musicians who have been playing in the area since the early ‘90s. He learned to play guitar by 12, which started his love affair with music.
“I just kind of got the fever for it,” he said. “Since I started playing guitar, I just got hooked on it. It’s something I made the decision to do when I was a teenager.”
At 19, Johnson played his first paid gig. An acquaintance invited him to play at an event and while Johnson said he really had no idea what he was doing, he agreed. That event taught him something important: he could make more money working a few hours as a musician than most people made in traditional eight hour workdays.
“It kind of opened my mind to the idea of playing music to support myself,” Johnson said. “From then on, I started booking my own gigs and tried to make it work.”
He spent most of his early 20s working odd jobs and playing any gig he could get. Ultimately, he took the plunge and dedicated himself to a full-time professional music career.
“It was nerve-wracking at first, but then I started doing it and started making it work. I started really trying to sell it and hustle it and it was working,” Johnson said. “Like any business being self-employed you’re kind of always on the brink of failing. It keeps you on your guard and it keeps you working. I won’t lie, it hasn’t been easy but I just keep doing it and people keep calling me. Honestly, I’m just as surprised as anybody that it has worked.”
Johnson said part of his success is due to the close-knit music community in Douglas County.
“Roseburg and the Douglas County area have been really good to me. I love this area and I love the people in this community. They have supported me through all of it,” he said. “I’ve been able to buy a little house and raise my family on the income from playing music. It really has been a privilege.”
Johnson plays a mix of Americana, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, blues and country. He draws influences from his own experience, like several stints in punk rock bands when he was younger, and from the music he was raised on, such as the Eagles and Neil Young.
“I like all kinds of music, all styles, I’m not prejudiced when it comes to music,” Johnson said. “I think that each genre has its place and I pride myself in having good tastes in each one.”
Some compare him to Lyle Lovett, Mark Bussard and Bob Seger in a mix Johnson calls heartland rock ‘n’ roll with soulful vocals. He plays nearly every day, either solo, with his band or with other local musicians.
“My sets are kind of diverse. I think that is why people like it, you never know what you are going to get when you see a show,” Johnson said. “I try to mix it up and keep it fresh.”
He released his first full-length album in March 2018, followed by a few singles released in August of this year. He has toured across Oregon, down into California and even has a following in Arizona, but Johnson said it is time for the next step.
Johnson will begin a new leg of his career in early October when he tackles 100 breweries in 100 days.
“We will be gone for four months. I bought a motorhome and I’m taking my wife and kids with me,” he said. “We are going as far as New York for the first leg of the trip, and then we will be in the Virginias and Carolinas during the second leg, then all the way down to Florida for Christmas and then we will come back through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and the southwest in the fourth leg of the trip.”
Johnson hopes to spread his music and message around the country.
“Being passionate about life is important. I think having some sort of passion in your life, whatever it might be, whatever you do, is very important. It keeps our heads above water and music just happens to be my passion,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of local success and now it is time to get regional and national.”
Johnson’s music and tour information can be found at www.neilgregoryjohnson.com.