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article imageTrue survivor Ray Johnston talks country music Special

By Adrian Peel     Dec 17, 2014 in Music
Digital Journal chats to the very positive-minded leader of the Ray Johnston Band about his recently released new album, the excellent No Bad Days.
Despite his obvious talents, music was not Alabama-born Ray Johnston's first love. Basketball was initially where the singer hoped to find success, and he came perilously close to making his dream a reality when he was signed as a free agent by the Dallas Mavericks in 2004. Unfortunately, an unexpected turn of events put paid to his ambitions.
Diagnosed with leukemia just three months after taking the first step towards a career in professional basketball, Ray spent two and a half months in a coma before receiving a bone marrow transplant. He was subsequently given the all-clear and in January 2015 will celebrate five years of being cancer-free.
September 2014 saw the release of his latest album, No Bad Days, a critically-acclaimed artistic statement that the bandleader worked on with a number of well-known writers (Ray co-wrote nine of the 11 tracks), and he spoke to me about it - and how part of it came to be written in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in September 2013 - from his home in Texas.
The album cover.
The album cover.
Brandy Reed
"I pretty much make my living with my live music right now in the region - the Texas scene. I don't have a label deal and I've got lots of colleagues and friends that I write with in Texas. But I think that when I'm at my best, my songs have a little bit more of a Nashville melody, if that sounds right...
"As I was weighing up my options on who I would hopefully write some songs with, I tried to mix it up. I tried to do half with my Texas colleagues and half with guys that are Nashville-based writers, and I did that simply because my dreams in music are much like my dreams in basketball.
"I want to play big venues all over the US, but also build it inside out. I live in Dallas and in my opinion, if you have a regional presence you'll have probably the strongest attendance in the place you live, right?
"So I wanted to write with half of my Texas friends and half of my Nashville friends, and that's what I did. On this Cabo San Lucas writing trip, I co-wrote six songs and I used four of them on the album: 'She's Like Mexico,' 'Keep It Rollin',' 'No Bad Days' and 'More Crown Than Coke.'"
"A lot of artists in my position would say, 'Oh, these were co-writes. I helped out in every writing session,'" continues the modest musician, "but these guys were very nice to let me partake in their writing sessions and were extremely patient with me. They just write so quick over there!
"Those were basically my first writing sessions with all these guys and it's a whole lot quicker than what I was used to. So they were kind to be patient with me and guide me along in the creative process. I'm forever grateful for it too because it taught me a lot about songwriting and it gave me really good songs."
The above mentioned tune, the very catchy "More Crown Than Coke," was the album's lead-off single, and even found its way on to CMT Pure.
"It's the first video I've had," notes the former athlete. "There's a guy named Sam Riggs, that I've become buddies with, and his new wife does video directing. I hired her for that video and she just nailed it. I think she captured exactly what the song's about and CMT Pure picked up the video.
"I had to double check my email - I'm like, 'Seriously? This is awesome!' It was on the Texas charts for 23 weeks, which is a good ride, and it's definitely my best song to date for radio airplay."
The current single is the title track, "No Bad Days" and the very likeable star was more than happy to fill me in on its origins. "There's a cool story about this and it involves Mexico... The place that we were writing in is a really big, beautiful, privately owned beach house owned by a guy in Dallas.
"This guy had seen me play a couple of times and he came up to me one time, he said, 'Ray, you can use my beach house. Just get some good songwriters down here and let the inspiration move you and write some good songs.'
"He opened up his house to us and that's where I was last week as well... He's just a very generous, giving guy and the theme of the beach house down there is 'No Bad Days.' All the writers were having breakfast one morning and we said, 'What can we do for the owner of this house as a thank you present?'
"We agreed that we needed to abandon the traditional writing session that we had lined up. Usually, three of us would go to one side of the property and three on the other and we'd do the traditional three-way co-writing session.
"But we said, 'Hey, let's all get around the table in the living room, overlooking the Sea of Cortez, and let's write an anthem for the owner of this house.' His name is Mr. Noble, and so we all got together and the song was written with everybody but Chris DeStefano.
"Chris was on the trip, but that week he had three songs in the Billboard Country Top 10, so he was dealing with a lot of emails, and probably good sales reports, on his computer! So it was James Otto, James Slater, Django Walker, Patrick Davis and myself."
Did Ray decide on the album title after the song had been written?
"I did. It happened after I chose the collection of songs that I was gonna record. I noticed that all the songs were pretty happy melodies and if anybody gives me two words to describe Ray Johnston Band music, I say it's 'happy country.'
"I thought 'No Bad Days' was the strongest song as far as lyric content and then I decided to title the album No Bad Days. I thought it was the most authentic way to describe the album and I'm really pleased with that choice."
As highlighted at the start, Ray originally hoped to make it in professional basketball and I couldn't help but wonder whether he believes he would still be doing that now had he not become ill so soon after signing for the Mavs.
"If I hadn't got sick, I think I would still be playing... I'm 35 now so I'd probably be coming close to the end of my career, but I probably would be playing in Europe somewhere. That's kind of where it looked like I was going.
"If I'd lasted in the NBA, it probably wouldn't have been for long just because there's so much talent there. A lot of my friends that were along my skill level ended up going to Europe and having successful careers.
"My work ethic has always been there, both on the sports side and on the music side, and I've never been afraid to turn a no into a yes. I've never been afraid to work at my craft and hustle and apparently I've never been afraid to try to make it in two different things that have extremely low success ratios: professional basketball and professional music.
"My dad once told me, 'Son, you sure do know how to pick the industries that have a lot of failures!' Then he followed it up with 'Somehow you're gonna come out successful and I don't know how you're gonna do it, but I believe in you.' I still get goosebumps to this day when my mom and dad tell me that they're proud of me..."
No Bad Days is out now.
Ray is a supporter of Be the Match, a charity that helps find bone marrow donors. For more information, visit their official website.
For more on Ray and his band, go here.
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