By RICK BROWN, Yard Light Media
LOOMIS – “Music has a way of sneaking around and bypassing our thought processes and everything we’re doing at any given time,” said songwriter Johnsmith. “A song can come in and sneak right past your heart. Next thing you know, you’re feeling emotional about something you didn’t even know you had feelings for.
Johnsmith shared some thoughts with a reporter on his 50-year career making music and writing songs while driving from Texas to Wisconsin — as long as the cell signal held out.
“I’ve been going to Texas and Oklahoma doing shows for a week and a half,” he said. “It’s a combination of a bit of work and a bit of vacation. It was very nice to get out of this cold Wisconsin.
Johnsmith’s latest album, “Backroads”, reflects the way he travels the country, performing in small clubs and house gigs.
Marilyn Rea Beyer, host of The Midnight Special, said of the album, “Johnsmith’s new ‘Backroads’ collection shows where we’re all at right now. More than that, the melodies and messages of the songs will endure and deepen their meaning over time.
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Central Nebraska Americana music fans can hear Johnsmith in concert at 7:30 p.m. on March 19 as part of the Rehmsworld Concert Series at Loomis Balcony. Admission to the show is $20 in advance or $23 at the door. Johnsmith will play with Dan Sebranek.
Johnsmith, 71, writes about real life experiences – family, career, love and loss.
“We mix it up,” he said. “Some of the stuff is very folk-oriented, some of it is country, and some of it is almost bluegrass and bluesy. We do a lot of duet singing. Most of the time, we do about 75% original songs.”
Originally from Iowa, Johnsmith condensed his name, John Joseph Smith, at the start of the internet age.
“When everyone started building their websites and having URLs with no spaces,” he said, “we just put my name in one word and it’s kind of stuck. It’s such a generic name, John Smith.
Johnsmith uses storytelling, both in his songs and as a means of presenting his music.
“Every good song has a story behind it, how it was written and things like that,” he said. “I love sharing this information. A lot of my shows are story songs – but not all of them. I write a lot about my own life; about my kids graduating, being with my parents when they died and some songs about my wife and our relationship.
The music often triggers emotions, which makes the songs so compelling to Johnsmith. He sums it up like this: “The more we feel, the more alive we are.”
His love for songwriting comes from the association of the music, which starts the process, with the lyrics.
“This combination can be a powerful thing,” he said. “It can make life a little better and more enjoyable.”
During the COVID shutdown, Johnsmith has been working on his music.
“I wrote several songs, enough for a CD using different song styles,” he said.
Johnsmith often travels to Ireland. For the “Backroads” album, he included a song about a friend of his who died in a boating accident in Ireland. He also explored jazz-influenced tunes and more traditional bluegrass-flavored music.
“I really mixed it all up,” he said. “I gave myself more permission to spread my wings during COVID, mostly because I had all this time to write but I wasn’t performing in front of people anymore. I just wrote the songs for the sake of the songs, not worrying if anyone would ever hear the music.
Johnsmith grew up in the 60s during a time of divergent musical styles.
“There was such diverse music, just on the AM radio dial,” he said. “I was in a rock ‘n’ roll band in high school where we played a lot of music from Rolling Stone, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and of course The Beatles. The time I got my first guitar was in 1971 and that’s when people like Jackson Browne and James Taylor were performing. I was very drawn to that. I’ve always been a fan of the music of singer-songwriters or a duo like Simon and Garfunkel.