Return of the King (Johnson)

UPDATE: Since the article below was published, the King Johnson Reunion show with Alanna Royale has been cancelled due to an unexpected health issue. The guys from KJ send their sincerest regrets with hopes that they’ll be able to do something funky with everyone in the near future!

Not only is Macon’s music scene and celebrated history something any city would be jealous of, but this year brings a concert every other Southern town will envy.

The legendary King Johnson returns, as they occasionally do around this season, to perform one show. This is a rare, not-to-be-missed event even, perhaps especially, for those who never experienced the Oliver Wood/Chris Long fronted six-piece during its initial five album, near decade (approximately 1994-2005) run.

Mark the date and venue: Dec. 28 at the Capitol Theatre.

Wood takes time off from his popular and prolific Wood Brothers full-time gig to reconvene with the songs and (most of) the musicians he toured and recorded with as King Johnson, now spread out across the country and even the world. Along with co-founders Wood and Long, drummer Greg Baba, percussionist Chris Uhler and saxist Marcus James are back. The late trombonist Adam Mewherter, who passed in 2009, is replaced by Rich Sherrington completing the horn section, a key aspect of Johnson’s virtually indescribable approach.

It won’t be exactly like catching them on a typically sweaty, beer soaked, restroom challenged, gig at Atlanta’s famed blues dive bar the Northside Tavern, their one-time home base, during the outfit’s prime… but it’ll be close. And you won’t need a fake ID to enter if you’re under 18.

Those wondering what all the fuss is about need only spin King Johnson’s rollicking concert release, 2005’s Live in ’05, for an hour-long dose. On it, they also solve the issue of labeling their wildly eclectic sound with the song “Adultcontemporarybluesrockjazzfunk” (“Gonna make you shiver/make you shake and jump” finishes the chorus) which, at least partially, captures the rootsy magic behind their gutsy groove.

As Oliver explains in Hal Jacobs’ terrific 2022 Northside documentary (subtitled A Mostly True Account of the Golden Age of Atlanta’s Most Exquisite Blues Dive), “…we wanted to experiment (outside the blues genre) and get a little weird…to honor the tradition but also push it and figure out what our own sound was.” Wood further illuminates, “I’m real proud of the work we did back in the King Johnson days and it was certainly the most formative musical time in my life.”

Tinsley Ellis, Atlanta’s iconic blues-rocker who gave Wood his first road experience as second guitarist in his band, recalls King Johnson fondly. He toured the Southeast with them in 1995 (they were a trio at the time) writing, “I remember playing Ft. Lauderdale together and Tom Dowd, who was my producer at the time, came to the show. He thought they were great, especially noting Oliver’s guitar playing. Tom pointed out that Oliver played slightly behind the beat which gives (the music) depth and weight,” concluding “They were my favorite local band for years.”

Multi-instrumentalist Coy Bowles, a key member of Zac Brown’s outfit since 2007, similarly remembers in the documentary “It was impossible not to just go crazy when that band was playing. That was my favorite band because of the horns, Oliver’s voice and because they played so far behind the beat.”

Although at least three of KJ’s releases remain in print (they weren’t that easy to find even when the sextet was active), they are all thankfully available digitally. So fire up your device and dig into their repertoire to prepare for what will surely be one of the most festive concerts of this, or likely any other, holiday season.

Adding to the excitement is opening blue-eyed soulstress Alanna Royale. Her sizzling, retro Dap-Tone-styled vibe borrows from Amy Winehouse, the late Sharon Jones and whoever your favorite female classic Stax artists are.

So shake off those pounds from Christmas and get primed for the upcoming New Year’s Eve festivities with the much anticipated return of King Johnson.

Your Atlanta-based KJ loving friends may be jealous but entice them to make the two hour trip for this rare chance to relive the heyday of Wood and Long’s first foray into booty shaking fun, right here in Macon, the home of classic Southern music and one of the band’s favorite cities to play.