Music critics have a tendency to overuse this phrase: “(insert male country artist here) is the next Waylon Jennings.” And that’s certainly not to throw shade at the talent of Chris Stapleton, whose music I love, Sturgill Simpson, Shooter Jennings, Whitey Morgan or the endless list of male musicians who are the recipients.
And it’s certainly not a shot at the man himself, Waylon, who is one of the all-time greats. But for country music to survive, there need to be the next Buck Owens and next Kenny Rogers and next George Jones and next Steve Earle and even the next Kenny Chesney. Country music will have to find a way to survive and thrive in the post-MP3 world, but that’s another discussion for another time.
One day, unfortunately, the world is going to need another Willie Nelson — someone to write the songs and do the tours and do it all with grace and humility. Jamey Johnson seems like the perfect troubadour to fill the shoes that Willie will one day vacate.
Johnson returned to Biloxi on Friday for a sold-out show at the IP Casino Resort.
There’s one thing that’s consistent about seeing Johnson perform live — no two shows are the same. Although he’s going to, usually, open with “High Cost of Living” and close with a gospel medley (a la Willie), what happens in between is left up to Johnson.
He filled his space with several songs from his breakout album, 2008’s “That Lonesome Song” including “Mary Go Round” and the audience favorite “In Color.”
Johnson also played several cover songs including The Band’s “Shape I’m In” and the Little Feat classic “Willin.’” Both songs made perfect sense of Johnson’s set as he played in both the “Last Waltz” tribute in 2016 and 2017’s “Waiting For Columbus” show at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans. Johnson’s voice was perfect for both the Levon Helm vocals of “Shape I’m In” and Lowell George’s “Willin.’”
He also paid tribute to the late great Jerry Reed, who was recently inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Johnson’s equipment truck was painted to look like Reed’s rig in “Smokey and The Bandit” and the band played a smoking version of “Eastbound and Down.”
The show had two highlights that are worth mentioning happened late in the set. Johnson played a version of “God’s Problem Child,” a song he co-wrote with Tony Joe White for Willie Nelson. It’s the title track on Nelson’s latest album.
Johnson paid tribute to a country singer that doesn’t receive a lot of fanfare from the music hipsters — Kenny Rogers. Her said he’s playing the Rogers tribute in Nashville at the end of the year before launching into Rogers’ “Sweet Music Man,” a song Rogers wrote about Waylon Jennings and his struggles at the time. It was a performance I will not soon, if ever, forget.