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24 Sep 12 Ray Johnston Singing a Happy Tune

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By Sam Moore Ray Johnston is a winner. Sure, he walked on in college to make the basketball team. Of course, that led to him actually becoming a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Yes, he battled cancer and won – five times. I know, his music is

great. But he is a true winner because, despite all his

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victories and defeats, he has a fantastic outlook on life. I had the opportunity to talk with the up-and-coming Texas country-rocker this week, in advance of Tuesday’s CD release party in Austin for “Against the Grain.” He’s winning fans with a versatile mix of songs featuring “Me, You and Emmylou,” “Bye Bye City Lights,” and “Supernatural.” Johnston was happy during our interview. He had just bagged his limit on the opening day of dove hunting season in West Texas. Of course, Johnston is happy a lot these days. He has learned a lot in his short life so far. “Life is not always about the five-year plan,” he said. “Sometimes it is about the moment.” Johnston is not the typical country singer. He describes his sound as somewhere between Dave Matthews and Zac Brown. “Against the Grain” is his second CD, and he is very proud of it. The songs on his first CD were done very quickly. He thought that he had a short time to live. Then he got good news from his doctor, and that gave him a new view for his next effort. ”This time I wanted to take time to do it right. I knew my songs were country, but also had some sub-genres in them. Looking at Zac Brown’s success gave me encouragement that the market was accepting to that. So I was entering the market in a sweet spot for me,” he said. Johnston’s early influences were wide, from the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic and Dave Matthews to Garth Brooks, George Strait and Alan Jackson. “We used to sneak over to my buddy’s ranch,” he laughed. “We would play “Calling Baton Rouge” over and over.” Even before his days with the Mavericks, he and his friends had a cover band. They would play once every three months. He sees a similarity between that experience and his basketball tenure. “It’s not different from being a point guard,” Johnston observed. “You have teamwork, and you have living for the minute. And the crowd cheers back at you.” Johnston loves singing, and he thinks he is getting better at it. He credits his recovery from leukemia surgery – a basketball injury led to the discovery that he had the disease – as a help. “That’s the good thing about waking up from a coma,” he said. “You don’t just come to. It took me two weeks to do a left to right pan and realize I had a long road ahead of me. With my amputations (he lost seven toes) I was on a lot of pain medication. A lot of it was foggy. But the most consistent thing through the fog was my parents trying to take my mind off it.” During his recovery, he surrounded himself with happy things. He watched lots of Seinfeld and Friends. He also listened to a lot of upbeat music, including countless playings of the Dave Matthews Band “One Sweet World.” He sent a note to drummer Carter Beauford, and eventually got to meet him during a performance at Fair Park. Johnston calls his sound “happy” – a hybrid of jam country, jam rock, and a rootsy vibe. His new CD reflects that. The first song, “Bye Bye City Lights,” is a typical two-step. “Gameday” is a rocking song about college sports. “Muco Gusto” is about an Argentina girl. “Supernatural” has been re-recorded with an extra verse for an upcoming ad campaign for Be The Match, the national bone marrow transplant registry and advocacy group. Johnston received a transplant during his cancer fight. He is now a spokesman for the organization. For the new CD, Johnston surrounded himself with some talented musicians. They may play with him one night, Herbie Hancock the next night, and Prince the following night. And he chose Ken Tondre to produce it because he is a hard worker. “He’s

not funny at all,” Johnston said. “I am the funny guy. Nothing in life is perfect. But I made as close to a perfect selection for not only producer, but also now a close friend.” Seeing a turn in Texas music, Johnston is excited. He loves Kevin Fowler, Jonathan Tyler and Northern Lights, and Turnpike Troubadours. He loves any act that “brings it” on stage. As for his own health, Johnston does not dwell on the negative. He likens his relationship with his doctor to a player/coach relationship. He said if he were to have another relapse, he would simply ask the doctor what he would do if it were his boy? And just saying that relaxes him. “It is easy to go to your news when times are bad,” Johnston said. “I’m just trying to remind myself to pray during happy times.” With a new CD and his limit on doves, these are indeed happy times for Ray Johnston. (For more information, visit

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