Michael J Johnson is a mix of extraordinary talent and a genuine down-to-earth attitude rarely seen in a person with such an astonishingly diverse range of musical aptitudes.
Johnson is a seasoned veteran of the music industry. He grew up in Denver, Colorado, a member of a musical family. He began playing piano at age 6, grew up singing in church, wrote his first song at 12, and picked up the guitar at 13. He first gained notoriety as a guitarist/vocalist for “The Penguins” in Greeley, Colorado. He became a mainstay of the Denver scene first as lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist for “The Cocarolas,” then lead vocalist/lead guitarist for “Strange Brew,” along with his brother Chadzilla (Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Polytoxic.) During this period, he was also a vocalist and arranger for Denver vocal jazz quartet “Ayregin,” sharing the stage with groups such as Take 6.
Next came a move to Miami, Florida, where he spent several years as guitarist and vocalist with “Public Sanctum,” along with vocalist/songwriter Beth Cohen (Bee Gee’s, Jon Secada.) The band held a steady 4-nights-a-week club gig for several years, played numerous festivals, and released an eponymous album. He then formed “Fish This Big” with bassist Lancelot (John Waite, Amy Grant) and drummer Brendan Buckley (Shakira, Damien Rice.) Fish This Big made some noise in the Miami scene for a year or so, becoming regulars at legendary Miami dive Churchill’s, and opening for Kevin Nealon (Saturday Night Live) at the University of Miami.
During his time in Miami, Johnson also worked as a vocalist and guitarist, both live and in the studio, with artists such as Jon Secada, Lari White, Dawnn Lewis, and Bob Dorough. His recorded vocals were heard on national television during the Orange Bowl halftime show, and in numerous radio commercial jingles. For years, dancers on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines shows lip-synced to his recorded vocal parts. It was in Miami that Michael began logging serious hours as a studio engineer, beginning with a stint at South Beach Studio, followed by New River Studio in Ft. Lauderdale. He also managed to fit in a Masters and Doctorate in Jazz Performance at The University of Miami.
St. Louis, Missouri was next, where he joined “The Flat Broke Band” as lead guitarist and vocalist. Flat Broke was a mainstay east of the Mississippi river, on the Illinois side, for a few years. They released the album “Flat Broke,” which Michael engineered and produced, as well as contributing 6 original songs, lead guitar, and lead and backing vocals. While in the St. Louis area, he engineered and produced recordings for numerous bands and artists in the region, including working with future members of “Augustana” and “The Paper Route.”
He finally landed in Boston, Massachusetts, and soon joined Boston band “Gambiza” on lead guitar and backing vocals. Gambiza released their eponymous debut, which was also mixed and mastered by Michael, in 2012, and they are currently working on their second CD.
For the first time in his career, Michael is stepping out as a solo artist, releasing a series of singles on iTunes, Google Play and Spotify, and performing live with his own band. He is also an associate professor at Berklee College of Music, in the Contemporary Writing and Production program.