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article imageMichael Johnathon talks 'Legacy' album and inspiration behind it Special

By Markos Papadatos     Feb 10, 2020 in Music
Singer-songwriter, producer, author, and playwright Michael Johnathon chatted with Digital Journal about his "Legacy" album and his inspiration behind it.
On his inspiration behind Legacy, he said, "It happened in three parts. My book WoodSongs 4 came out this summer, it was really a truthful overview of the collapse of the music business for just about everybody on the non-star level. It was a literary expose about returning music back to America's front porch."
"So at first, I wanted to compose a song about how artists are dealing with this insurmountable struggle, this eternal uphill climb of trying to find their audience. Then I thought: that’s just too negative and the lyrics turned into a tribute to the world of roots artists that became the building block of the art form that I love so much. They overcame everything, achieved recognition and many of them lost it way too soon," he said.
He continued, "Then, I happen to see a YouTube interview with Don Mclean of American Pie fame and he said it very clearly: 'there is no music business anymore, the record industry is dead.' That’s when Legacy was born. The lyrics literally exploded in my face in less than 20 minutes. I saw it as a vision of America’s musical spirit, lost as technology took over America’s front porch."
"Legacy became my musical tribute to every single artist fighting to seek out their audience, and the uphill struggle. We all have a long long way to go," he added.
Legacy highlights songwriters such as Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Harry Chapin, and the Kingston Trio. "I chose them because they were the steppingstones into my career path. They were the architects of the poetic, cause-oriented and passionate musical visionaries that I wanted to aspire to be like. Whether or not I ever achieve it is irrelevant, they were the inspiration," he said.
When asked why he chose "Legacy" for the title track of the album, he said, "Legacy comes from a phrase in one of the final verses of the song, '... your legacy was lost to old news reels ...' on a verse about John Denver and Buddy Holly. The phrase 'they have a long long way to go' applies to every stage of every career, whether their life was cut short like Jim Croce or went on for 94 years like Pete Seeger."
"Legacy also applies to the chorus," he said. "I picked songs that the radio and record industry all claimed were way too long to get airplay. On purpose I recorded the song as a derivative of American Pie, just to make the point clear. That became critical once I realized that this sucker was going to be epic. All the songs on the chorus became legendary, and all of them were deemed too long for radio."
For young and aspiring artists, he said, "We live in a convoluted age in music. There are no more record store chains left in America. There are no CDs slots in computers anymore. Even the AM radio dial is being positioned to disappear in the next decade. Music is reverting back to the front porch. Artists must not just think outside the box, they need to crush the box, burn it and build a new one. My advice is to do it the Tyler Childers way… He captured his audience one fan at a time, one coffee house at a time, one independent CD sale at a time."
"One of the things that becomes important is the music business needs to surrender the old business models that no longer work," he said. "The music business as a whole in the record industry specifically is doing the equivalent of hanging onto rotary phones because that’s the business model they are used to. It doesn’t work. And as much as I love and respect BMI, ASCAP and SESAC the old business model of venue licensing is preventing artists from meeting their own audience. The business model does not work and I am strongly in favor of converting to artist licensing. I go into detail in WoodSongs 4 and I really encourage everybody to read that chapter."
Regarding WoodSongs, he said, "To be honest I started WoodSongs because I saw the tail end of the Garth Brooks phenomenon, that the business model was unsustainable. Nobody was ever going to come along like he did selling millions upon millions of albums. I felt those days were over. Artists today need to have one hand on a guitar case and the other hand on a briefcase, and plow their own road up the mountain."
"I created WoodSongs to be a gateway, a multi-media portal between new and emerging artists, musicians and songwriters to as big an audience is possible to. The show is built on love, all-volunteer from top to bottom. I think love is the greatest transaction of the arts and I’m extremely proud that WoodSongs has proved it," he said.
"One of my big musical heroes was Roger McGuinn, and he came to celebrate our 900th broadcast," he said. "It was his third time visiting the show and being able to develop a genuine friendship with someone so important to my musical past was wonderful. But frankly, after 1000 live audience broadcasts picking out a 'special moment' is virtually impossible at this point."
He shared that Woodsongs was one of the first national broadcasts to introduce an Australian guitar player named Tommy Emmanuel. "He's been on the show 11 times now and, as impossible as this may seem, gets better and better each time. There was a young man who came on the show with his mandolin player friend, tuned up his six-string guitar and literally blew the back wall of the theater out. His name was Billy Strings and nobody heard of him at the time. As you can imagine there’s a lot more, but those are a few that might stand out to readers."
He is a songwriter, touring performer, author, host, and father. When asked how he balances it all, he said, "I'm most proud of the fact that we’re still here. Legacy is a statement about the volcanic changes in the music business and it certainly affects me as it does every single artist. Record labels are not signing anymore, booking agents are having a hard time finding venues to put their artist in, streaming pays virtually nothing I’m just about everybody I know is on their knees."
"The world of media has changed, print has virtually collapsed just like the record industry, you can get a half-page story in the newspaper and nobody reads the ding-dang thing. I know a legendary guitar player who should be booked all over the world who is considering getting a day job right now. The fact that I am still functioning is a miracle. I guess I’m most proud of that," he said.
On his ideal co-writers, he said, "The co-writing idea is interesting. I’m not a co-writer, I enter my own little universe and that’s where the songs come from. Art is born from isolation, that’s why so many magnificent artists come from the Appalachian mountains… decades of total isolation from the rest of the nation. Legacy would be a good example of how impossible it would’ve been to cowrite that, I was in my brooding space thinking about it literally for days, I was in a hotel room somewhere and sat on the edge of the bed and the entire song hit me like a cannonball."
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