When Thomas Johnson was a boy growing up in Baton Rouge, his mother taught him to play the piano. However, it wasn’t until his father picked up a guitar to play a blues song that the young Johnson was really hooked on music.
“Honestly, I probably got into playing guitar because I saw him play “Stormy Monday” one time when I was a kid and I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Johnson said.
Thomas Johnson and the People will be playing Chelsea’s Cafe on Friday, Nov. 23, but don’t expect a social media campaign about the event. Johnson said he prefers to focus more on the actual show.
“I’m totally addicted to playing live music, but I don’t like spending the time pushing it,” Johnson explained. “I’m not even on twitter. It probably hurts me in some degrees, but you can get consumed trying to put your music in people’s faces all the time.”
With that said, Johnson has posted quite a few live performance videos on his website, http://thomasjohnsonmusic.com. The site also has a trio of releases by Thomas Johnson & the People, which include the 2010 “Living Room” EP, the 2011 “Beneath the Trees” album and their most recent effort, the 2012 “It’s Okay, I’ll Die Too” album. Throughout those albums, Johnson’s music has grown from a polished studio sound to a low-fidelity approach with mostly acoustic arrangements recorded in a home studio.
“When I go back to hear my recorded music, I enjoy the recordings made in the house in Lacombe more than the ones that were in the studio. I guess I can get more personal in my own space,” Johnson said.
Another space that Johnson appreciates is the great outdoors, which feeds into his music.
“I enjoy writing songs in a quiet outdoor environment,” Johnson said. “I like to go on long trail runs and I can usually clear my mind when I’m in nature.”
Following his love of nature, Johnson took a demanding job on the sunny west coast after studying history at LSU.
“I worked for the National Park Service building trails, and that’s what led me out to San Francisco. I was working and playing music out there.”
Eventually, Johnson met Eric Lindell, who invited him to join his New Orleans band. Even though Johnson liked the Crescent City, he was soon inspired to go solo.
“I guess I learned a lot about the business element of it and band management, but with Eric, I played lead guitar the way he wanted it done,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t able to do much else. It kind of made me want to go out and play my own music.”
Johnson decided to do just that. He formed Thomas Johnson & the People, which currently consists of Johnson (guitar and lead vocal), Scott Lebell (keyboards), Ben Almerico (drums), Jake McMains (bass) and new member Denton Hatcher (guitar and vocals).
“We’ve been playing together for a while and they [are really good],” Johnson said. “They are great at playing songs not like what’s heard on the album. I don’t like playing the songs exactly the same all the time. I honestly like the way we play songs live more than how we recorded them.”
To check out some of Johnson’s recorded music, go to http://thomasjohnsonmusic.com. Then see Thomas Johnson & the People live at Chelsea’s Cafe (2857 Perkins Rd.) on Friday, Nov. 23.