We’ve had three presidents and two popes since Jamey Johnson last released an album of original songs. The double-LP The Guitar Song arrived in 2010, just two years after Johnson’s breakout record That Lonesome Song shattered Nashville’s glossy façade with a return to rough-and-tumble outlaw songwriting and production. But the Alabama native has been in no rush to release a proper follow-up, choosing instead to pay tribute to songwriting heroes like Hank Cochran with the 2012 covers album Living for a Song and put out a surprisingly tender holiday EP in 2014’s The Christmas Song.
During a recent interview with Johnson for a story about the life of his bandmate and friend Jason “Rowdy” Cope, who died in January, the multiple Grammy nominee refuted reports that he’s recorded a new album.
“My steel player, he did an interview recently and he told them all this wonderful stuff that we’d gone in and recorded. And they turned around and printed that there’s a new album — which is news to me,” Johnson tells Rolling Stone.
According to Johnson, the week Charlie Daniels died in July 2020, he and members of his band convened in a studio to record Daniels’ 1971 song “Trudy.” Afterward, they “nibbled around” on a few new things Johnson had written, “just to kind of hear what they would sound like,” he says. “So the correct answer is, ‘No, I don’t have an album coming out.’ Even more correct than that is, ‘Goddamn, I hope so.'”
Johnson says he has been writing and looking for enough inspiration to strike to warrant recording a new project. But he’s not one to hurry the process — or release a collection of songs just for the sake of it.
“I don’t need to put out an album, and I know some people do put out albums every year,” he says. “But I only want to put out an album if it’s going to be good, if it’s going to be something that I want to go out and play every night. And if I’ve got those songs, then I have no reason not to put it out. But in the absence of that, I don’t see why I would. You know, I wouldn’t waste everybody’s time and attention to come hear the newest bucket of crap.”
For Johnson, a regular touring act who recently hit the road on an acoustic run with Randy Houser, his concerts have become his albums. They’re typically freewheeling affairs motivated not by a set list, but by what Johnson feels like playing, be it country or otherwise. Songs by Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Bob Seger, and the Band have all appeared in Johnson’s sets.
“My shows vary. I’ll do whatever comes to mind at a show, whether it’s something new or some cover. It’s almost like that little two-hour session on the stage has taken the place of making a record for me because every night it’s a record,” he says. “It’s a new set; it’s a new bundle of songs. We don’t do the same stuff in Virginia that we do in North Carolina or the same stuff we do in Georgia or Alabama. By the time I get to California, we’re practically a rock band.”
This summer, Johnson will join the country/hard-rock group Whiskey Myers for a U.S. headlining tour that kicks off in June in Wichita, Kansas. Johnson encourages his fans — especially those hoping for a new album — to buy a ticket.
“Please come to a show. I look forward to seeing everybody there. But just know at the same time that I love writing songs and I love making music with my friends in the studio,” he says. “And when I feel like it’s time, we’re going to get focused and go in and make that record everybody wants so bad to hear.”