Buck Johnson has shared the stage with the likes of Aerosmith and written for artists like Carlos Santana, but for the keyboardist, there’s nothing like performing his own music.
“To play for a handful of people or thousands of people, makes no difference,” says Johnson on the phone from Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives. “To play for Aerosmith is fantastic, but it’s great that I get to go out and do my own songs.”
Buck Johnson, along with his band, performs March 8 at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley — his first time performing in Marin.
“I want to give people a big show,” Johnson, 50, says. “A bang for their buck.”
Johnson joined Aerosmith as their keyboardist and backing vocalist in 2014, a job he didn’t think was going to happen.
Joining the band was a whirlwind. Johnson was in Alabama with his family when he got a phone call from Steven Tyler who was in Istanbul, Turkey, for an upcoming performance. The next day, Johnson was off to Istanbul “getting a crash course of the songs” on his flight.
“Steven is special, no doubt about it,” Johnson says. “People know his crazy antics but he’s a big-hearted and loving man. To sing with him is like, ‘Oh my god, I get to do this.’”
After three sleepless nights from jet lag and trying to get up to speed on the material, an exhausted Johnson had taken a nap only to be interrupted by his phone ringing.
“I wake up finally and I’m told ‘Buck you need to pack your bag, there’s been a mining accident’” that killed hundreds as well as rioting, Johnson recalls. “I’m so delirious, I think it’s a dream.”
But the tragedy gave him a little more time to prepare for his debut with the group, which was in Sofia, Bulgaria, a few days later.
“I had played in front of large crowds before but to actually be singing with Steven and playing with my idols growing up is pretty special. But, it was pretty nerveracking. Playing “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” you don’t want to mess it up in front of 30,000 people.”
His performance on March 8 at the Sweetwater will include music from his solo album “Enjoying the Ride,” released in 2016 by Spectra Music Group. The music is hard to categorize, Johnson says. While he describes himself as a “blues, rock singer” he doesn’t deny his country roots.
“We’re basically rock and roll; we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he says.
Johnson grew up influenced by English bands such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin and The Beatles, and began performing when he was 5. He recalls Sunday afternoons after church, singing gospel and blues with his family in the sweltering heat. He has been a part of bands including country group Whiskey Falls, all while writing songs for himself and other artists. Before he would perform alongside Tyler, Johnson wrote “Just Feel Better” from Santana’s 2005 album “All That I Am” that featured lead locals by Tyler.
Johnson wears many musical hats. Some days, he’s a songwriter; others, a producer. He works on music for Aerosmith as well as for himself.
“To be able to say you have a career in and of itself is special; not everyone gets the opportunity to do that,” Johnson says. “Music is a calling and I never saw myself doing anything else.”
By Colleen Bidwill, Marin Independent Journal