An independent singer-songwriter with roots in southwest Alabama has cracked the Top 50 of Billboard’s hot country chart, and if follow-up plans hold true you’ll be hearing a lot more out of Derek Johnson.
Johnson’s “Real Cool Kinda Hot” is a big slice of mainstream country, an ode to a woman first seen with her “hair pulled back in a camo cap with a catfish on the line,” a gal who’s compared to an ice cold Fireball whiskey shot, a big high five on the yard line, ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ and a cup of tea with grandma, among other fine things. A thumbnail bio he has offered on social media likewise is calibrated to the tastes of a country radio audience: “I’m a 5th generation farm-boy, raised in the small-town USA in towns the size of a T-shirt pocket, who grew up hunting, fishing, hittin’ dirt roads, sittin’ round campfires, playing sports and lived on a 5,acre cattle ranch.”
There’s a little more to the story. Johnson (not to be confused with a contemporary Christian artist of the same name) also is a U.S. Army veteran, a wounded warrior and the possessor of an MBA degree.
If the name is unfamiliar, that’s probably because Johnson hasn’t taken the conventional route of grinding his way up from bar gigs to clubs to theaters to festivals to opening for stars. His road to this point has followed a whole different set of twists and turns, and if you just wrote a song about each of the roles he’s played along the way, you’d have the basis of a solid country album.
Johnson was born in Mobile and spent his earliest years in the Saraland area before his family moved to Turnerville and then to Excel, where his dad found work on a cattle ranch belonging to a prominent Mobile family. He learned guitar at the knee of his grandfather, George Roberts, who told him stories about his friendship with Hank Williams Sr. when they both worked in Mobile during World War II.
“I have to give all the credit to my grampaw,” Johnson said. “He was roommates with Hank when they worked at the shipyards.”
“He just poured all his hours into teaching me guitar,” he said. Johnson said every time he learned a new chord he’d run to the other end of the house to practice in solitude before playing it for his grandfather. “It took a while because I was so shy back then,” he said.
Johnson graduated from Excel High School then moved on to Alabama Southern Community College and the University of Alabama. After graduating he moved to Nashville and started working on the business side of the music business -- only to find out that complicated his chances of getting anywhere on the music side.
“It helped me but it also hurt me,” he said. “They want you to wear one hat, on Music Row.”
He went back to school but didn’t feel like he was on the right path. His family has a long history of military service. He asked an older brother, an Army veteran, if he’d missed the age limit to enlist. “He was like, ‘You have plenty of time.’” Johnson said.
Signing up, he said, was “the pivotal turning point in my life.”
In , at the ripe old age of 28, he hit boot camp surrounded by enlistees a decade younger. “I got ‘gramps’ and ‘grampaw’ and ‘Hey old man, you started seeing any gray yet?’” he said. But there were five guys even older than him, he said. “The drill sergeants had a lot of fun with that.”
He was stationed at Fort Irwin National Training Center in California, a base where troops train for deployment to desert regions. There his military career was cut short by injuries that required extensive rehabilitation.
Johnson said he doesn’t want to overplay “the veteran card” or “the wounded warrior card.” He doesn’t want anyone to assume he was injured in a firefight overseas. But at the same time, he said, he takes very seriously the impact that even domestic service can have on people’s lives. Many people know that elevated suicide rates for veterans are a national problem, he said, but few understand that the majority of those suicides involve vets who never saw combat. “I’ve had two buddies commit suicide in the last four months,” he said.
After his discharge and rehab, Johnson spent some time knocking on doors in Nashville. When they were slow to open, he began work on his MBA at Colorado State University. While that was in progress, he got a chance to work with Star Farm Nashville, a company founded by experienced record label executives Michael Powers and Matt Corbin.
When things started happening, they started happening fast. “I simultaneously was working on getting a single ready for Billboard and working on my master’s degree,” Johnson said.
“Real Cool Kinda Hot” was cowritten by producer Phil O’Donnell, Wynn Varble and Brian Callihan; like many country artists, Johnson records songs written by himself and others. Even if he can’t take credit for the lyrics of this song, seeing his version on the charts is a personal success story. Johnson said that for him, it’s something he and his late grandfather achieved together.
“I’m living his dream and my dream,” he said. “I like to say we did it.”
He hopes that achieving this level of success as an independent will spark major-label interest. But he’s not going to be waiting around idly. In early June he plans to release a follow-up single titled “Right Beer, Right Now.” He’s posted a solo acoustic version on social media but says the single will feature a more energetic rock arrangement.
“The Star Farm guys are calling it the beer anthem of the summer,” he said.
That’s not the only big development fans can look forward to, he said.
“We’re about to make some major moves,” he said. “I’m not going to stop pushing hard.”
Farmer. Army Veteran. Wounded Warrior. Country Artist. Each can be used to describe who Derek Johnson is, one fitting into the next like a puzzle. But that puzzle has so many more pieces. His familys proud heritage in the Armed Services, from the creation of our Nation onward. A family tree that connects to the White House and Americas Team. His familys historical connection to some of Country Musics legends and icons. And in , he added the accomplishment of being the only Wounded Warrior to ever chart on Billboard Top 50 with his debut single Real Cool Kinda Hot.
We caught up with Derek to talk about his service to Our Country, his amazing family history, and his musical journey.
CN: For our readers who may not be familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
DJ: Yes, I most definitely can. I’m Derek Johnson, born in Mobile, Alabama, grew up in towns the size of a T-shirt pocket, Saraland, Excel, and Perdue Hill. Most people never believe I’ve done half the things I’ve done or the story I have… but I’ve lived in 8 states, have two degrees, lived on a 5, acre cattle ranch throughout high school and college, I’m related to two National Champions from Alabama Football, one of which is a NFL legend and Super Bowl Champion (Lee Roy Jordan; Dallas Cowboys), distant relation to former President Lyndon B. Johnson, and my 7th Great Grandfather founded and named Bayou La Batre, Alabama, famous for its role in Forrest Gump (Bubba Gump Shrimp Company scenes); I’m an Army Veteran, Son of the Revolution (I’ve had a family member serve in every conflict dating back to Revolutionary War); I was the Captain of my High School Golf Team (with a 2 handicap to this day), turned down a full ride scholarship in golf to Alabama for a music scholarship (dad didn’t talk to me for 5 months… he does now lol), and I played every sport at least one year growing up. I’m an avid outdoors-man, hunting and fishing, camping, riding dirt roads, the beach, going to the creek, and a big, big sports fan, college football (Alabama, Colorado State, & Texas A&M), NFL (Denver & Dallas), NBA (San Antonio), NHL (Blackhawks), MLB (Yankees, Braves, Cards); huge fan of NASA too. Trust me, this is just a start… there’s a lot more to know haha!
CN:We would first like to thank you for your service and sacrifice to our great Nation. As a member of the U.S. Army, you received several awards and honors. Can you share with us your military career? What led you to join the military?
DJ: Yes, I was a 14S, Air and Missile Defense Crew Member for the United States Army, Hooah! As an ADA crew member, we’re experts at friendly and enemy aircraft, their weapon and missile capabilities, destroying enemy aircraft and also experts on all missiles.
First, I wanted to do something for myself. I felt a calling to serve my country and to fulfill duty. And second, I’m a Son of the Revolution… every one of my family members has fought in every single conflict from the Revolutionary War to present day.
Personally, it was the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. The best decision I’ve ever made. I would do it over and over and over again. I joined to make a career out of it but my severe injuries cut me short, but I’d like to thank all of my NCO’s and brothers/sisters I served with… those that are continuing to lead today and those who are out… for helping mold me into the man I am today. Always here for y’all. And for those I’ve never served with… thank you for taking the call to duty, for carrying the torch forward for Freedom (foreign and domestic), and for your service.
CN:With everything that’s been going on in the world in regard to COVID, we hope everyone in your circle is safe and healthy. How are you holding up?
DJ: Oh, I’m doing fine. I’m probably the guy that everyone says “he’s THAT Veteran that’s skeptical and you don’t want to ask his opinion for anything” haha. But as far as me and my family… no experiences with it. But, for anyone who has, stay safe and prayers to those.
CN:For those who don’t know, your family has a unique connection to country music surrounding your grandfather who had a very famous roommate at one point in his life as well as held company with other legends.
DJ: Yes, my Grandfather and Hank Williams Sr. were roommates (back then they called it ‘boarding mates’ because they all had their own rooms but lived in the same house. They hitch hiked around town, worked together, and also played the same circuits which span from Florida to Texas and up to Tennessee. He also bought a guitar from Bob Wills once… but sold it and then ended up with a guitar that Hank once had (in which I now have)… a Gibson Southern Jumbo. Bob had around 14 band members (he used for different shows plus depending on location and availability) but 5 of them would play for my Grandpa while in Texas. So, I definitely remember all the stories about Hank, Audrey, Bob, plus George Morgan, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, and many other legends of that era of Country Music… the Pioneers.
CN:Growing up in a musical family, your grandfather taught you how to play guitar at the age of 5. When did you realize that you had to pursue music – was it during those early years or later in life? Was there a specific moment that just solidified your decision?
DJ: Yes, it was the moment I understood what a Country Singer was… at 7 years old, my classmates were already nicknaming me “Nashville” and “Cowboy”… it’s kind of like the famous Elvis quote… “When I was a child, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So, every dream I have ever dreamed has come true a thousand times.” I just believed every single thing my Grandpa told me… I listened, I studied, I practiced over and over and over every single day. It’s very hard to describe… I was like a well oiled machine at a very young age… but luckily I had the tools to make me successful by a Grandfather who knew it was a finite structure and business to Country Music and I had the wisdom to listen and learn plus the tenacity to endure the hard times and no’s until I found my yes’s.
CN:Which musicians, country or not, have influenced you both personally and as an artist?
DJ: George Strait… by far. George Jones, Hank Williams, Mark Chesnutt, David Lee Murphy, Tracy Lawrence, Elvis Presley, Neal McCoy, and Alan Jackson.
CN:You grew up in Alabama, a fifth-generation farmer, but have also lived in seven other states across the country. How as your experiences on the farm and elsewhere not only molded your work ethic, but inspired you as a musician?
DJ: On a Farm in just like the Military… every single day one must have to wake up with the same work ethic as the day before. It’s a mindset, it’s a discipline, a structure, and no matter what… even on off days and hard ones… you have to find that spark that holds the flame that runs the engine and keep the row straight. It’s easier said than done but it’s a heck of a lot better for the rewards of your hard work and work ethic.
And living in 7 states… that’s free will plus military, but I believe that expanding your horizon and getting out of your comfort zone can help anyone learn to communicate better with different cultures without having to lose who you are. If you have an opportunity, take it. If you can create an opportunity, do it.
CN:In addition to Veteran, farmer and musician, you also hold 2 degrees: a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and a Master’s degree from Colorado State University. In what fields did you study?
DJ: I have my Bachelor of Business Management from The University of Alabama and I have my Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Colorado State University. Roll Tide and Go Rams!
CN:“Real Cool Kinda Hot” was your debut single and it not only made it to #47 on Billboard / US Country Airplay, but you also made history in becoming the first Wounded Warrior to ever chart on Billboard. What was going through your mind when you broke the top 50? What does it mean to you to be the first wounded Veteran to have a single and a debut single to boot chart on Billboard?
DJ: It actually took a little while to sink in that it really happened… I was in Nashville and my label guy text me and said we’re going to chart sometime this week and when we do, we’re celebrating. The way we celebrated was not conventional at all… he gave me two sentimental gifts… a BMI letterman style jacket that only 5 people have and a CMT letterman style jacket (his father found CMT and was President of BMI for a while) and then we listened to his playlist of all the songs that he had promoted to hits from up (which was about a 4 hour list). I think it finally hit me that night around when I laid down that my name was next to all the ones I’ve been knowing and watching… and it was a humbling moment… kind of breathtaking… kept staring at it on my phone and smiling.
CN:Your latest single “Right Beer Right Now” was just released on June It’s the perfect, fun summer track – what was the inspiration behind the song?
DJ: My buddy Chad whom I had just met 2 days before…had the idea rolling over to the studio that morning… and his friend (now my friend and producer) struck out on a killer melody… and we just wanted to write the most what I call melodelicious (delicious melody + lyrics) positive drinking song ever that wasn’t so much about drinking as it was about just live for today… “ain’t lookin’ back, I don’t drink that way”… really just kind of telling people in a Cool Hand Luke way to chill, raise it high, drink it down, don’t look forward, don’t look back, enjoy today to its fullest.
CN:As a Veteran, do you use music to help as a cathartic tool?
DJ: Most definitely. That’s my #1 motivation and reason why I love to write. I spend so much time focusing on how to write something in a way you’ve never heard it and melody that you get lost in the lyrics and song… it’s very much therapeutic. And for any Veteran out there that would love to write their story in a song… if you don’t want to do it on your own, reach out to me, I’ll be glad to.
CN:If you had the opportunity to collaborate with any one artist, who would it be?
DJ: George Strait… %. Alabama. And Jana Kramer (she was an old roommate of mine briefly haha).
CN:What was the first album you ever owned?
DJ: Billy Dean was the first album I remember purchasing with birthday money… I always loved his style and vocal range. Probably one of the most underrated artists in Country Music.
CN: If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be and why?
DJ: Humble. I’m the most blessed guy on the planet… my career has been very, very unconventional… had to experience quite a few bumps in the road and valley’s… it’s been a true “10 Year Town” (one of Nashville’s nicknames), but the journey has been well worth it to get to appreciate each new day as it comes and live that day to its fullest.
CN:Whats next on the horizon for you?
DJ: Right now, I’m (We’re) just putting all my attention and focus on this new Billboard single and getting it to the Top 30… but since I hit BB so unconventional, my team and I are also really focused on landing a booking deal and hitting the road a lot more and introducing fans who I am along with “hey that’s my song” haha. And I’ll be in rooms all the time writing since that’s what I love most about the whole journey.
For more information on Derek Johnson, visit his website at www.derekjohnsoncountry.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For more information and to support The Wounded Warrior Project, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.
Derek Johnson (musician)
American Christian musician (born )
|Born|| () March 5, (age34)|
|Genres||CCM, Christian rock, Christian alternative rock, worship|
|Labels||Jesus Culture, Sparrow|
|Associated acts||Jesus Culture, Justin Jarvis|
Derek Johnson (born March 5, ) is an American Christian musician. His first release was with Jesus Culture, Emerging Voices, with band member, Justin Jarvis, and it was released in , yet he joined the group in The first album, Real Love, was released in by Jesus Culture Music alongside Sparrow Records. This album was his breakthrough release upon the Billboard magazine charts.
He was born on March 5, in Roselawn, Indiana, the youngest of six brothers, and he departed for Redding, California to attend Bethel Church in , after his girlfriend graduated high school.
Johnson married Becky Fox in , when they resided in Redding, California, yet the couple presently reside in Sacramento, California with their child.
Johnson's music career started in , when he became a part of Jesus Culture, and he was featured on their release, Emerging Voices, with band member Justin Jarvis. The first album, Real Love, was released on April 7, , after he turned 28 years old, by Jesus Culture Music alongside Sparrow Records. This album was his breakthrough release upon the Billboard magazine charts, placing on the Christian Albums at No. 17, while peaking at No. 9 on the Heatseekers Albums chart.
- ^Derek Johnson (March 5, ). "My birthday kicked off with this cutie and @beckyfoxjohnson bringing me gifts:)". Twitter. Retrieved May 7,
- ^ abJesus Culture. "Twenty Questions with Derek Johnson". Jesus Culture. Retrieved May 7,
- ^Louder Than the Music (July 30, ). "Jesus Culture – Derek Johnson". Louder Than the Music. Retrieved May 7,
- ^ ab"Derek Johnson". Jesus Culture. Retrieved May 7,
- ^ ab"Becky Johnson". Jesus Culture. Retrieved May 7,
- ^Collar, Matt. "Derek Johnson: Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved May 7,
- ^New Release Tuesday. "Real Love by Derek Johnson". New Release Tuesday. Retrieved May 7,
- ^Billboard. "Derek Johnson: Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved May 7,
- ^Chart search for Derek Johnson at billboard.com/biz
- ^"Derek Johnson – Chart History (Christian Albums)". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved May 7,
- ^"Derek Johnson – Chart History (Heatseekers Albums)". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved May 7,
Call Zhenya a taxi and have her taken home. No problem, baby. Zhenya lay on the bed and laughed at Katya that she did not want to join and lost a lot.
Music derek johnson
Four of us wanted to go. Now she's a fool. With a name like that, no wonder.Derek Johnson - Real Love
Yes, and everything here hurts. Come on, Nadia purrs, you will have a hundred more of them, what your years are. Two years older than me, and behaves like a mother. Although in these years, one year matters. Especially in the army, and in civilian too.
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This. this is a completely different feeling. This is. Let's stop.