2018 Jamie Johnson family Christmas portrait, with Santa
Former Grascals’ frontman Jamie Johnson is using his music talents to help addicts on the road to recovery. It was just a few years ago that the lead singer was living the bluegrass dream. He traveled and recorded with one of the most popular groups in bluegrass music, but on the inside Johnson was fighting against a nightmarish existence. Depression and a battle with the bottle wrestled control away from his life, leaving him in a pit of despair.
“I lost my family,” Johnson tells Bluegrass Today. “My wife (Susanne) left because I was pretty sick not only on the road in my bunk. I was hiding with a bottle at all times. I’d get off that bus, and put that smile on my face and act like I was on top of the world, because I felt like that’s what I had to do. I’d come home broken not because of anything on the road, not because of the guys. They were a great family. It was because I didn’t know how to get out of what I was in, and I was confused.”
“Things were going on at home as well. Susanne was pulling away, and she needed to be because I was continuing the drinking. It’s just seeing somebody suffer so bad, and she had to take [my son] Cole out of the situation, even though I couldn’t see that at the time. That was another thing where it was everybody’s fault but mine.”
Friends reached out to help, but the sickness of addiction had already consumed Johnson’s life.
“I was alone,” he says. “It was just down to me. There’s only so many times your buddies can come check on you. They try to come in shifts because my wife’s beat out. The blinds would be drawn. I couldn’t get out of bed for days on end. Sometimes I might not even be drinking. I was that depressed. I was incredibly sick physically at the time regurgitating. It got down to where it was blood. I’m not proud to say that, but that’s what happened. That is the truth, and if you can’t admit the truth, you can’t get past it.”
But one day when Johnson was on the verge of admittance into the hospital again, he looked into the mirror and didn’t like what he saw.
“I looked at myself and for the first time I saw that jaundiced look – the empty look, the red in the eyes, the red/yellow look. [I said] I know you’re a good person, I know you mean well, and I know you want to love again. I think if I can learn to like myself again, I can learn to love myself again. And If I can learn to do that in a positive way and a non-selfish way, I think I might be able to get through all this. I asked God to help me love me again.”
Johnson went to a treatment center for help, and eventually, that one-way conversation in the mirror became Johnson’s recovery song, Ready to Love Me Again that he co-wrote with Brice Long.
That love helped motivate Johnson to enter treatment, and his life began to turn around.
“As soon as I got sober, as soon as I left the treatment center, she [my wife] was waiting on me at the airport. I got my family back. Not many people can say that. God let me live through all the damage I had done to myself and my body and my mind and my heart. I lived through all that. I got help, and I got my family back. Man, I’m a country song in reverse.”
While Johnson enjoyed a few fill-in dates with The Grascals this year, he doesn’t ever foresee a return to the music business. Instead, he’s using his musical gifts to help others in the recovery journey. Now 3 years and 9 months in recovery, Johnson works at the Journey Pure treatment center in Murfreesboro, outside of Nashville, providing music therapy to the clients there.
“We share our feelings, experiences, dreams, and hopes, like I do in most of the daily 12-step meetings. I let the guys share if they feel like it — where they are right now, where they want to be.”
Johnson works with the folks there to create songs. One part is composed of dark words from their addiction days, while the second part focuses on how they plan to get to the next step in their life with positive words like faith and prayer.
“I create a melody, and they make a song out of it. So far, 100% of the time we walk out and we’re all hugging and high fiving, and we’re proud of what we’ve created. It’s a pretty cool experience.”
Johnson and his co-writers dream of creating an entire album of songs of recovery and hope.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to do this. I’m letting God walk me through this. For once there’s no pressure. I don’t have to have an album done for any certain record label, and I don’t have to put a song out and try to get a hit.”