Dan Johnson
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Dan Johnson

Fort Worth, Texas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | SELF

Fort Worth, Texas, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Alternative Americana




"NPR "All Thing's Considered""

Earlier this year, Ft. Worth, Texas singer-songwriter Dan Johnson released a new album of songs, paired with a collection of fictional stories co-written with novelist Travis Erwin. The songs and stories include an imaginative cast of characters, from a grievously wounded veteran seeking salvation in drugs and alcohol, to an aging gun smuggler taking one last shot at love.

The album and companion book are a project of a non-profit founded by Johnson called Operation Hemingway — named after the famed author who experienced the carnage of the Spanish Civil War and who, at the age of 61, killed himself. The project is a homage not only to Johnson's own father but also to families like his who have endured the pain and grief of veteran suicide.

The concept came to Johnson during a tour of Hemingway's home in Key West. "I was there in his study. And when the rest of the tour group moved on I hung back." Johnson says he began imagining what it was like for the author near the end. "He couldn't go have any more adventures, he had become trapped in this old man's body. And I wondered what that must be like to get to the point where you don't feel like you have anything else you can give the world," he says.

In the title track on the album, "Hemingway," an American soldier fighting in Afghanistan is nicknamed for the author because he regales his platoon with stories.

In the song, Hemingway is grievously wounded by an improvised explosive device and loses both legs and one of his eyes. Shipped home, he finds relief in Percocet and bourbon and eventually takes his life the same way.

Dan Johnson knows something of the subject. The songwriter's relationship with suicide began when he was 10 years old. That year, 1987, Johnson's father — Terry Wayne Johnson, a Vietnam veteran, took his own life.

"My dad and I were best friends, we went everywhere together. Right up until the day that he died," says Johnson.

In families, suicide can beget suicide. Fast forward 25 years,"there was a particular moment in life," remembers Johnson, "when I had broken up the marriage of a dear friend of mine. And he didn't deserve that and she didn't deserve that and their son didn't deserve that."

So in 2012, on a highway outside of Amarillo, Dan Johnson decided to follow in his father's footsteps: "And I had the feeling — I don't want to take up space anymore. This world would be a much better place if I weren't in it."

Johnson hit the gas. His plan was to smash into the first bridge he came to so his children would get his life insurance. But for mile after mile there was only empty Panhandle.

"And there was nothing to run into. So I had some time to think. I began thinking about my dad and thinking about — I bet he thought he was doing me a favor. And I'm about to do the exact same thing to my own kids."

Johnson pulled off to the side of the road shaking. After an hour he gathered himself and sitting in the middle of vacant West Texas, wrote a song of regret about a cowboy who'd hurt everyone he'd known.

It's Johnson's frank assessment of veteran suicide in the title track Hemingway that's drawn the interest of veteran's organizations. It got the attention of Jacob Schick, CEO of 22 Kill, a non-profit whose name is derived from the number of American veterans who kill themselves every day.

"I learned through tragedy that the only way to honor those that came before us and those are going to come after us is to not only live but live well," Schick said. "Look, we're after acceptance, acceptance that it's okay to not be okay. Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of your fear. You just have to weather the storm."

Like the soldier in Dan Johnson's narrative, Schick was badly wounded. He lost his right leg, broke all his ribs and suffered a traumatic brain injury during combat operations in Iraq in 2004. It was Schick who helped Johnson sharpen his focus to the issue of veteran suicide.

Dan Johnson is taking his project on the road, playing the material to audiences who reflect it back afterward. He's learned to hang around once the show ends because veterans or their loved ones often want to talk to him, to thank him and then share their tales too. An emotional release comes with the storytelling. - National Public Radio

"Cowboys and Indians Magazie"

Filled with complex, heartwarming, and sometimes dark characters and short stories, Dan Johnson’s latest album, Hemingway, finds a new way to communicate to audiences.

The tracks on Hemingway are accompanied short stories written by novelist and journalist Travis Erwin; the music and songs touch on subjects ranging from suicide, drugs, and alcohol to raising children and finding life’s purpose.

Though tragic songs can be tough to listen to, Johnson presents his in a way that bares his faults and personal battles, gently weaving them into emotional narratives that manage to encourage and ultimately uplift.

“Hemingway,” the title track that jumpstarted the whole project, was inspired by the death of Johnson’s father and evokes the tragic end of the famous namesake author who died by his own shotgun-filled hand.

After performing the song for a friend in need, Johnson realized his own hardships could help heal others.

Recently, we chatted with Johnson about Hemingway in particular, songwriting in general, and his work in the fight against veteran suicide.

Cowboys & Indians: What’s been the response been like, so far, to your newest album, Hemingway?
Dan Johnson: It’s been interesting because in a lot of ways ... personally, I get a lot of emails and messages through Facebook and Twitter [from people] who are thankful that there’s a new way to approach the subject of how to deal with people who might be struggling with either post-traumatic stress or just the emotional issues that come from reacclimating to civilian life. So in that way, it has been everything that I hoped it would.

I’ve been traveling the entire country, about two weeks out of every month, going from place to place, doing a free benefit concert. The nature of the concert is a very uplifting show. Sometimes people are concerned; they think, you know, my gosh, that’s going to be such a heavy subject. Nobody wants to come and listen to a sermon about something so difficult. One of the things that I’ve always got to illustrate to people is that it’s actually a really fun and uplifting show. I mean, I even do some old singalong songs, old Beatles songs, and things like that. Each song in the show has some sort of message to it. Between the songs, I do a bunch of storytelling.

C&I: And the album comes with a companion book by novelist and journalist Travis Erwin. …
Johnson: That’s right. He and I have been friends for quite a long time and I’m a huge fan of his writing. When he found out that I was working on this project he said, “Man, I would love to sit down with you and write the full stories behind all of these characters and how they’re interrelated.” Because every song on that album tells a story and you would never know that all of those characters are related to each other. ... When you dig into the book itself, you figure out the secret connections between them and that part’s pretty cool. - Cowboys and Indians Magazine

"Texas Music Pickers"

Dan Johnson’s “Hemingway” plays out much like the audio book that accompanies it. It’s a collection of stories that are character-centric, colorful, and rich. To me, it’s a generous pour of a bourbon. It’s not something you consume quickly. It’s something you slowly sip and appreciate. You let it do the work and allow it to unfold. It’s not a barn burning album or one that you’ll probably hear out at the rowdy dance halls, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s best taken in, in a quiet place or comfy listening spot to soak in the seriousness of the overall picture.

Johnson undoubtedly takes a step up with the songwriting and complexity from his older collection and with it, reshapes pretty much everything you’ve known about him previously. Not that his other stuff wasn’t good, this is just different and certainly on another level. Even more moving is the philanthropy behind the project. Johnson has established “Operation Hemingway”, a non-profit organization which aims to educate the public on mental health struggles and suicide among military veterans. A donation page is available on the website and 20% of the proceeds from the “Hemingway” project will go to further the campaign’s mission. You can find more about it here: www.operationhemingway.org

The project opens up with “The Favor” a swampy tale of love and darkness. The layered contrast in the story on top of the Jeff Plankerhorn’s Weissenborn slide guitar immediately lets you know that you’re going to be in for a ride.

The title track “Hemingway” inspired by the by the tragic suicide of Johnson’s father, who struggled to cope with civilian life after returning from war. The intricate biography dives deep into pressing outside forces and their counterparts of internal struggle. The track carries a moving subtle delivery with a powerful message. ….Damn…. and thank you for putting this to paper Dan, I know it couldn’t have been easy, but it obviously going to go a long way in shedding some light into what some of the brave men and women who chose to serve go through upon returning home.

“Bloom” is an intimate track of a parent watching their child find their way and turn in to an adult. The song paints a cyclical journey of a daughter at home in the care of her mother, leaving to “bloom” and ultimately returning to care for her mother. Yeah…another one that hits straight to the heart.

The latin flavored “Tom Waits for No One” is packed with some lively instrumentation and vivid imagery. A story of loneliness and longing with the nod of course to one of the kings of heartbreak melodies Tom Waits.

The EP finishes with a haunting depiction of regret and remorse and a decision of the most dire consequences. The track takes you through the spiritual battle of the light and dark and certainly brings a furthered awareness on the mission of the “Operation Hemingway”.

The EP/Audiobook drops this Friday, and we definitely encourage you to grab a copy, but in the meantime enjoy an early listen to one of our favorite tracks “The Favor” below! - Texas Music Pickers


Fort Worth’s Dan Johnson is still gaining his footing as a reputable singer-songwriter around these parts. Over the last 18 months, he’s moved in the right direction for sure, surrounding himself with folks that have been in the game for a while and doing it right. These days you’ll find Johnson at his recurring “Almost Famous” gig at Love & War in Plano, song swapping with the likes of Josh Grider, Drew Kennedy, and Ben Danaher. We also covered this collaboration with his hero, Walt Wilkins. That’s some good company, and Dan Johnson is about to showcase all he’s learned with a very personal and ambitious project.

July 27th will see the release of Hemingway, a tribute to his father, Terry Johnson. Two years in the making, Johnson conceived the title track while standing in the writing room of Ernest Hemingway in the paradise of Key West, Florida. The music however took its roots a long time ago, as many of the stories told on Hemingway come from Johnson’s life. His father sustained a debilitating back injury while serving in the Air Force. Discharged with minimal benefits, Terry Johnson struggled to hold a job, his body too broken to endure manual labor and no college education to find professional work. Over time, the feelings of betrayal coupled with the stresses of providing for a growing family led to mental illness, culminating in Terry Johnson taking his life the day before Dan’s 10th birthday. Dan grew up and spent years battling his own demons, and even flirting with suicide himself. But he made different choice, instead Johnson turned his life around and started Operation Hemingway, an organization combating veteran suicide through education and intervention.

The 5 song EP is packaged alongside a corresponding set of short stories co-written with Texas novelist Travis Erwin (author of Twisted Roads and The Feedstore Chronicles). Johnson also called on Adam Odor, whose production prowess has been a Golden Touch as of late, to help realize the vision. Each song and story stands on its own, but when woven together, Hemingway paints a world that’s rich and contemporary, but told in a timeless fashion worthy of the album’s namesake. It’s Johnson’s best work to date and is already garnering attention both within and beyond the Lone Star State.

Hemingway isn’t for casual listening and getting through the audio book is emotionally trying. However, to fully enjoy its beauty listening to both the music and the audio book is absolutely mandatory. Once you get your hands on Hemingway, first listen to the record minus the short stories. Listen multiple times, forming a picture of the characters and the events of each song then back fill with the audio book. Johnson’s songs solidify, taking on more color and different meanings in their new context. The short stories are akin to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, where plot lines are presented independently and out of chronological order. Characters, events, and even objects introduced in one story make cameos in other chapters and once completed, the listener must put all the pieces in place to see the big picture. Scenes of intense, graphic violence are balanced with moments that are tender and heartwarming. It’s a story that questions the definitions of good and evil and how much of it we create with our choices versus what’s perceived as fatalistically determined. There are Easter eggs galore, some easily found while others are only known by Johnson and Erwin. The following rundown will give you a taste of each song and story on Hemingway. There are minor spoilers.

The Favor – The Favor leads off, immediately giving the sense you’re in for a bumpy ride with an ominous, Old West finger-style guitar intro. The song’s chord progression provides a repetitive, dark backdrop for Johnson to tell the tale of his first two characters, Billy and Jenny. Driving through the bayous of Louisiana on their honeymoon, the newlyweds find trouble in the Malvo brothers. The story unfolds chorus-free, with screaming guitars describing the bloody carnage that ensues when Billy summons an unconventional ally for help.

While Billy and Jenny are the first characters introduced in Hemingway, chronologically the events of The Favor take place at the end of the story. The song references a “hammered coin of silver”, a recurring element that permeates the entire Hemingway narrative. Passed among the characters, Johnson and Erwin use the token as a conduit to bring luck, both good and bad, to the current owner. In the story we are told the coin is a Tyrian shekel, a currency dating back to the Roman Empire. Historically, it’s believed to be the form of payment Judas Iscariot received for betraying Christ. Given all the supernatural events that surround it, we are led to think the shekel in the story was THE coin given to Judas. The original owner wishes to “get his money back” seeing that the crucifixion of Christ backfired, resulting in the salvation of mankind.

The full backstory of Billy is told in chapter 2, “The Devil’s Child”. Jenny is primarily mentioned in song, though both characters make a brief appearance elsewhere.

Hemingway – the title track to the project begins with a tranquil piano intro, an almost paradise-like setting for Johnson tell the abbreviated story of the main character, John Rivero Jr. Rivero is a quiet but ornery 18-year-old from Key West. He enlists in the army and quickly earns the nickname “Hemingway” from is army brethren, who love his embellished tales of life growing up in the Keys. Once again Johnson tells the story verse by verse, with an epic chorus that gets larger with each pass as more instruments fill out the song (including Lloyd Maines on pedal steel). There’s a crescendo, then the song strips down to unveil the tragic final verse.

The full story of John Rivero Jr. is told in chapter 5, titled “Hemingway”. It’s the heart of the project and obviously inspired by the tragedy of Terry Johnson. John is a second generation fisherman, who works alongside his overbearing father for a local fishing guide, Captain Rick. He grows up a local football hero and starts dating Emily Atwell, another main character whose story is told later in the book. Emily is convinced her and John are “meant to be” but John, unsettled and searching, decides to enlist in the Army. John and Emily stay in contact for a while, but John eventually withdraws and breaks it off. While serving overseas, he grows quite adept at spotting IEDs, leveraging his skills acquired spotting fish for Captain Rick. One day after getting some unexpected news concerning Emily, John has a momentary loss of focus while out on patrol resulting in a singular event that sends him down a path of unbearable pain and regret.

Bloom – By comparison, Bloom is the closest thing to a silver-lining in the Hemingway opus. Originally written for Johnson’s three daughters, it’s the coming of age story of a young woman returning home to spend some final days with her mother, who is terminally ill. Piano and acoustic guitar paint a picture of innocence and purity as the song’s protagonist reflects on her decision to leave and how her mother’s wisdom and love carried her on her journey to the woman she’s become. Odor and Johnson layer it on thick with the instrumentation, 27 tracks in total, featuring violins, vocals and church bells to build a full and worthy daughter-mother tribute.

In the Hemingway narrative, the young woman is Emily Atwell, and Chapter 7 – “Heirloom” is the Hemingway story from her perspective. After John crushes her heart, Emily isn’t ready to hear it from her parents, especially her mother. Needing to escape, she heads to LA to find her way. In the story Emily’s mother, Theresa Atwell, is loosely based on Dan Johnson’s mother; both have a passion for roses.

Tom Waits For No One – Johnson and Odor return to the darker vibe, but wrapped in a Latin dance groove, with trumpet and Flemenco guitar throwing additional weight behind a 7-piece Cuban percussion section. Tom Waits is tune about a man waiting for his lady, having labored to establish the perfect romantic dinner. The night progresses, the wine bottle empties, the food gets cold and slowly he realizes his night isn’t going to happen. In real life, Johnson experienced a similar dinner years ago, and the nod to Tom Waits is in reference to the music playing on repeat that evening.

The main protagonist in this song is Captain Rick, employer of both Romero men. Captain Rick is the grizzled, no bullshit, tell-it-like-it-is father figure of Hemingway. The backstory of Captain Rick is told on track 9 of the audio book and covers relevant events from earlier in his life. Titled “Ice Water”, we learn that Rick is in a love triangle with his supposed soulmate, Rosie. As one can surmise, it’s complicated, and many threads are tied together in the big picture story.

Lone Gunman’s Lament – Solemn in it’s delivery, the last song describes the final moments of a gunman-for-hire coming to terms with all the pain he’s brought to the world. He’s realized his motivations for killing were cold and selfish, and has only perpetuated the pain and suffering he’s felt for most of his life. Regret and tears follow, and only a single path for penance remains.

The story of Grady Wayne Johnson is told in chapter 11 – “A Bad Man”. Grady grows up in a household of extreme violence and one evening his father loses control and goes on a drunken rampage. The details are truly disturbing and the horrors of that night drive the course of Grady’s life. The Lone Gunman’s story is ultimately about how one has a choice in how to handle a traumatic past.

Dan Johnson’s undertaking with Hemingway is heavy and thought provoking. I wouldn’t play it at your casual dinner party, but those with a penchant for great songwriting and storytelling will find their time invested in Hemingway well spent.

After the release, Johnson will embark on a nationwide tour promoting the project, his message, and to raise money locally to help struggling veterans. 100% of the tour proceeds will go to those local charities while 20% of Hemingway sales will go to Operation Hemingway.

To learn more about Operation Hemingway check out: https://www.operationhemingway.org/

For more on Dan Johnson – https://www.danjohnsonmusic.us/ - Galleywinter


In 1987, when Dan Johnson was just ten, his father, an injured US Air Force veteran, finding his skill set was not transferrable to civilian life, sank into depression and an eventual mental collapse that led to suicide. Thirty years later, his son is releasing Hemingway, a conceptual five-track EP cum audio book that seeks to raise awareness about the warning signs of suicide, especially among military veterans who, with, on average, twenty a day taking their own lives, account for 18% of all such deaths each year. In tandem with a non-profit online organisation based in Texas, he also wants to educate the public on the resources available to communities to help.

All the songs are autobiographical in nature, opening with ‘The Favor’, a brooding number with a sparse, desert-dry Weissenbaum guitar intro that harks to his own spiral down into a life of drugs and women, electric guitar snarling as Russell growls and part-speaks his way through the lyrics in way that conjures both Cash and Jennings at their darkest outlaw height.

Mingling echoes of Prine and Kristofferson and with Lloyd Maines on pedal steel, the mid-tempo waltzer title track is inspired by his father’s life. It tells the story of a young boy signing up at 18 and earning his nickname for his fiery nature as well as his tale-spinning, invalided out at 19 with loss of limbs and serious facial injuries, “too modest to speak of his pain”, unable to get work, and eventually taking “the Hemingway out.” Closing on haunting trumpet notes, it stands shoulder to shoulder with anything off Mary Gauthier’s similarly-themed Rifles and Rosemary Beads.

Opening on Springsteenesque piano, a six-minute stadium-sized muscular anthem with strings arrangement, ‘Bloom’ is a more upbeat number, one inspired by his three daughters and the experience of watching them grow and blossom underscored by a reminder that he came close to never doing so.

Heralded by the sound of a cigarette being lit and set to a flamenco guitar, Cuban percussion and Texicana shuffle, it’s followed by the punningly titled, trumpet-embellished ‘Tom Waits For No One’, a painful memory of a break-up, smoking with two empty glasses on the table waiting for a woman who never returns.

Framed by desolate sound effects of creaking boards and a cruel wind, it ends with another outlaw country-styled storysong ‘Lone Gunman’s Lament’, a song born from how, haunted by guilt and regret, Johnson came close to following in his father’s footsteps only to finally resolve to see things through and pour his pain and anger into his songs. It comes with a false ending as a sustained drone, punctuated by what sounds like the loading of a gun gradually, ebbs away into a final semi-spoken confession about making wise choices about “what you’ll live, or die even kill for.”

As mentioned, it comes with a second audiobook disc, a collection of short stories (running up to an hour) linked to or inspired by the songs, written in collaboration with novelist Travis Erwin, as well as spoken versions of the songs themselves. It’s also available as a paperback.

Following on from an eponymous 2015 debut with the Salt Cedar Rebels, itself firmly in classic outlaw country mode, this is Johnson’s first solo foray. On the evidence of both the songwriting and the music they feature, both he and the band deserve a far wider audience.

Mike Davies - Folking.com


...The first is Hemingway, by Texas songwriter and author Dan Johnson. This is not an album to be handled lightly. Put the liquor back in the cabinet and the sharp things back in their drawer. Frankly, the first time I listened I couldn’t get through the whole thing in one go. The 2-CD project is an EP of folk/country songs and an accompanying audio book that tackle the issue of veteran’s suicide. They do so with intertwining stories of the life around an Iraq or Afghanistan war vet who was raised on Key West. The characters, especially the namesake whose nickname is Hemingway, are deep and sometimes lovable, and occasionally a little loathsome. But they are incredibly human and the stories themselves are so compelling I found myself listening the second time hoping, through some technical trick of the recording, there would be a different ending. If ever there was a record that will compel you to go hug your loved ones and find a way to help those in need, Hemingway is it. - Twangville


2018 - Hemingway

2015 - Salt Cedar Rebels



As a performer, Dan Johnson's music is most often noted not only for rich and powerful vocal performance but even more so for his ability to elicit profound emotion from audiences. Dan's unimaginable background ties him deeply into the hearts and souls of listeners.  He is the great nephew of Folk legend Jean Ritchie, "The Mother of Folk," who made the first recordings of Appalachian folk songs with Doc Watson, for the Smithsonian Institute. Dan grew up in this Appalachian tradition, sharing songs and stories each night, on a small farm in the mountains of rural Kentucky. After watching his father, an exceptional guitarist and vocalist in his own right, thankfully fail in murdering Dan's mother but tragically take his own life on the day before Dan's 11th birthday, the family moved west. After repeated bouts of abuse, homelessness, and poverty, Dan eventually left home at age 16. Raising 2 daughters as a single father, he worked his way through college and eventually became a successful businessman. However in 2014, Dan realized that money and luxury didn't offer the happiness he hoped they would. He sold all his worldly possessions, save for his truck and music gear, and hit the road as a full-time singer-songwriter in the folk troubadour tradition. He now uses his experience to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention and mental health treatment, as evidenced by his most recent work, "Hemingway," a concept album and companion book that shed light on the struggles and reality of mental health issues and suicide.

Dan's work has been featured on NPR "All Things Considered," Cowboys and Indians Magazine, Galleywinter, Texas Music Pickers, Twangville, Buddy Music Magazine, Folking, The Dallas Morning News, and countless newspapers, tv stations, and web sources around the world, over the last 6 years. 
Notable Headliners/Festivals: Songwriter Serenade, Austin Rodeo, Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (Iron Horse and Buffalo Chip), Texas State Fair Bud Light Stage X 2 yrs (Headliner), Sarasota Veterans Day Music Festival (Headliner)
Notable Openers: John Michael Montgomery, Billy Joe Shaver, Asleep at the Wheel, the late Brandon Jenkins,  Jason Boland X 3, William Clark Green X 2, Randy Rogers X 2, Mike and the Moonpies, Parker McCollum. 
Favorite song swaps: Jason Eady, Drew Kennedy, Jeff Plankenhorn, Adam Hood, Josh Grider, Adam Carroll.

Band Members