Kevin Johnson - Still on the Linemen

"I've been playing music for seven years, which isn't that long, really," says Kevin Johnson, who clearly carries no chip on his shoulder about dues-paying. "Come on, the Smithereens were at it for fourteen years before their first record came out." Johnson, for his part, has already put out two CDs, though they've mostly just been sold at shows, around his hometown and through mail order. But they're among the better records of the past few years within the country-rock genre they gravitate toward. The first, 1992's Memphis For Breakfast, was recorded with his backing band, the Linemen; the second, 1994's The Rest Of Your Life, was released as a solo album by name but features a fuller sound. Johnson's musical base is warm singing and a knack for fitting pure-pop melodies worthy of Alex Chilton, Buck Owens and Marshall Crenshaw into a smart country-soul setting. Tracks like "Motel Six" and "She Turns Me On" from The Rest Of Your Life would zip up the charts in a just world. His newer material expands upon that foundation, as with the reserved lament of "She Changed The Country Station", the deep-hook jangle of "Written On My Heart", or the ringing guitar of "The Killer Pillow", a wry ode to the pillow that separates a hapless couple even when they're lying next to each other. Johnson recently teamed up with Charlie Chesterman -- "I just met him at a party," he explains -- and the two clicked. It's a great fit, as the rough-hewn sounds that Chesterman brought to his old band Scruffy The Cat push Johnson's eye for detail and precision to make vibrant and challenging music. Johnson knows his history, but he's creative enough to let his music stretch from its roots. After doing his own thing for so long -- in addition to writing and arranging his songs, he has produced and promoted his records as well -- he recently signed on with a manager and promoter who are looking to push him out of his East Coast niche. "I'm a lot better at writing and playing than booking gigs," Johnson admits. Even though the only guarantee at the moment is more ground still to break, Johnson remains optimistic. "All my favorite bands were built up the slow way," he says. And with that focus and patience, to say nothing of the great songs he's already put down, more widespread success can't be far away.