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An Interview With Royal Johnson

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Royal Johnson has become one of the most beloved bands here in the Middle Georgia area, and we here at The Creek and The 11th Hour were fortunate enough to sit down with the band’s Andy Johnson. Johnson is a founding member of the group along with guitarist Chance Royal, and together the two have carved out an impressive following in the Georgia music scene. Royal Johnson will be playing at the Hummingbird Stage & Taproom on Saturday, June 3, so come out for a cold one and a funky good time!

Being from the Middle Georgia area, what was your earliest musical influence?

I can remember being a small kid, and hearing my Dad playing Lynyrd Skynyrd on vinyl. Coming from the hallway, I’d wake up in the morning and it’d be on, and The Allman Brothers. He was big into ZZ Top, that’s probably the earliest I can remember, I don’t know how old I was.

When did you and Chance Royal first link up and what made you guys want to start playing music together?

Five or six years ago. They asked me to join a band they had around here called Mystery Road, they were a cover band that did mostly Allman Brothers’ tunes and stuff, but a lot of Classic Rock and Blues Rock, and I came in and started singing and playing guitar with them, and we did that for a couple years. Chance and I, at different times, left the group and decided to do something more original, focus on our own stuff. So we started up Royal Johnson. I went over to his house and started recording some ideas that I had, song ideas, and I came back up a week later and he had put all these other parts on it. We did that for a few weeks and soon we decided we needed to get a band together and taking the stuff out and making the album which became Belly Full.

You guys have played all over Georgia, what’s a bucket list venue for you to play here or anywhere?

The Tabernacle [laughs], Variety Playhouse, definitely want to play there. I don’t really go for the real big venues. As a listener, I’ve always enjoyed being able to be close to the band. All the really cool small venues around, I’d really like to play those. We’ve got to do the Capitol Theatre here recently, that was awesome. We’re doing the Douglass for GABBA Festival in September, so that’s going to be pretty neat.

You’re playing The Hummingbird Stage & Taproom on Saturday June 3, and you’ve played there a few times before. What’s your favorite part about playing that stage here in Downtown Macon?

Everybody from the staff, to the crowd that they bring in, respects music, and most of them are there for the music. They take care of their musicians, they have good sound men, good equipment. All the staff takes care of you while you’re there, and the people always listen. When we first started playing there, we didn’t really know anybody out in the crowd, but they all gave us a chance, and that’s different than a lot of other places in Macon, I don’t know what it is about The Bird, but there seems to always be a good crowd there.

Tell me about this new record Howlin’ you have coming out later this summer.

We did the first album ourselves, we recorded everything ourselves. This album we decided to let somebody else do it, and we went and talked to Paul Hornsby at Muscadine, and he’s great. He’s got a really great ear, he gets good sounds really quick, and he’s not afraid to tell you when something’s not working. You trust his opinion because he’s done it with countless big artists who’ve made hits. You walk into his front office and see all those gold and platinum records on the wall, so you listen to what he has to say. But the album is good, it’s a lot funkier than the first album, a lot bigger of a sound, it’s going to be a lot cleaner. Paul’s playing on some of it, and we have a couple other special guests on some of it. I can’t wait to get it out, it’s taken too long. If we had a lot more money it would be done already, but we’re having to do it a little bit at a time. We’d like to have it out by Bragg Jam (July) but definitely by GABBA (September).

You also play in Dos Blues Guys, how do you feel playing with these two groups helps you grow musically?

Well playing in a duo, the playing style is a lot different. There’s no drummer or anything so I have to be a lot more percussive, and I’ve developed a whole style of playing because I went several years without being in a band and I was just playing by myself or in a duo, so you have to play a different way to give songs something to snap to. So when I get with the band, it’s a whole other thing. We got such a great rhythm section, and Chance, our guitarist, is so good that when we get together, it makes everything a lot easier, you can kind of do whatever you want and everyone else follows along. We all listen really well. It’s fun playing with Benny, but my favorite thing is playing with the band, and we him sit in with us a lot too, so that’s pretty cool.

The first time y’all played as a full band was two years ago at The Big House, what does that experience mean to you to get to play such a historic place like that?

It’s great, we all grew up revering The Allman Brothers, everybody in the band, and to be invited to play there was very special for us, and definitely a lot of mojo there in that place and the backyard. The people that support The Big House, it’s a very special group and they’ve been very supportive of us ever since then. Really a big base of our crowd still, is The Big House crowd and we really appreciate them and how supportive they’ve been.

What else do you have coming up this summer?

We’re doing Papa Joe’s Banjobque this weekend over in Evans, they’ve got Greensky Bluegrass and Avett Brothers headlining that. We’re doing the Ida Cox Music Series up in Toccoa in June (17th). We haven’t been announced yet, but we’re doing Bragg Jam. Running down to Northeast Florida in July, playing Fernandina and a couple other places around there. I believe that’s it for the Summer right now. We are headlining the Bikes On Broadway down in Columbus in September, and the end of September we will be playing GABBA Festival at The Douglass Theatre on the Friday and hosting the Members’ Jam at The Big House on that Saturday, so we get to play there again. Hopefully we have the album done by then, that’s the big thing right now.

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