Freedy Johnston

Formed in Kinsley, KS in 1985.

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Sound description: Freedy Johnston is a classic American songwriter, pitting acute, evocative portraits of outsiders and beautiful losers against fragile, shimmering pop-rock melodies. His 1994 Elektra debut, This Perfect World, featured the hit "Bad Reputation," and that album, along with his subsequent releases, garnered him a fat scrapbook of critical acclaim.

Influences: Bob Dylan, Lyle Lovett

Similar to: David Gray, Jeff Buckley, Sheryl Crow, John Prine, Vic Chesnutt


Alt / Indie rock


Name Released Label
Album cover Trouble Tree 1990 Bar/None
Album cover Can You Fly 1992 Bar/None
Album cover Unlucky 1993 Bar/None
Album cover This Perfect World 1994 Elektra
Album cover Never Home 1997 Elektra
Album cover Blue Days, Black Nights 1999 Elektra
Album cover Live at 33 1/3 2000 Singing Magnet
Album cover Right Between the Promises 2001 Elektra
Album cover Rain on the City 2010 Bar/None


Freedy Johnston has always been a master storyteller, spinning beautiful melodies and well-chosen words to evoke worlds that stretch far beyond the confines of his songs. On his new album, Right Between the Promises, Freedy brings his uncanny storytelling skill to ten new songs that range from upbeat rockers to breezy ballads to a melancholy banjo tune, plus a '70s pop cover thrown in for good measure.

Over the past decade, Freedy has quietly emerged as one of the most significant songwriters of our generation. He grew up in Kinsley, Kansas, a tiny town located exactly halfway between New York and San Francisco. At 16, he bought his first guitar - by mail order, since there was no music store in town. After high school he moved to Lawrence, KS, working restaurant jobs while his friends went to college. He moved to New York in 1985 to concentrate on his music. Freedy's 1990 debut on Hoboken's Bar None Records, The Trouble Tree, got a warm reception from those lucky enough to discover it, especially in Holland, where it spawned a hit single. His second album, 1992's Can You Fly , was one of that year's most critically acclaimed, showing up on year-end best-of lists from coast to coast including Spin, Billboard, People, Musician and The New York Times.

This Perfect World, Freedy's 1994 Elektra debut, was another big step forward, a lush Butch Vig production that extended his unbroken streak of critical praise and featured his first bona fide U.S. hit, "Bad Reputation." Rolling Stone named Freedy their songwriter of the year and declared in a four-star review that "Freedy has joined an elite cadre of songwriters whose brilliant pop compositions turn magical with the addition of a defiantly idiosyncratic singing voice. He's an American original." Entertainment Weekly gave the album an "A," and kind words were to be found as well in People, Musician, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and many more. Several songs from This Perfect World received further exposure in the Farelly brothers' hit film Kingpin. In 1997 Freedy turned up the volume with Never Home, produced by LA guitar legend Danny Kortchmar and highlighted by the rocking hit "On the Way Out." Then, on 1999's acclaimed Blue Days, Black Nights, Freedy and producer T-Bone Burnett turned the volume way back down again, with exquisite, delicate melodies and gentle arrangements recorded largely live in the studio.

When it came time to record his new album, Freedy says that his idea was to get out of the city and set up a studio in a house somewhere. "I had planned to stay in the New York area, but after talking to some Madison (Wisconsin) friends about it, I decided to go out there. I love that town. So, I packed up my van, drove out there, found a house, bought some gear and got started."

Freedy made a trip back to New York in November, 2000 to record basic tracks at the Magic Shop with his longtime guitarist Cameron Greider and with frequent collaborators Alan Bezozi on drums and Graham Maby on bass. Cameron then joined him in Madison to do guitar overdubs and ended up producing the record. "Cameron just tore into it - he played a bunch of instruments, conducted sessions, the whole thing. We've been working together for so long that it was a natural progression for him to produce," Freedy says. Another long-time studio pal, John Siket, joined them to do some more recording and to mix the album at the famed Smart Studios. Other notable musicians include Butch Vig on drums on two tracks, Madison legend Jay Moran both engineering and playing, and the rock-steady rhythm section of drummer Bon Hamlet and bassist Paul Eske. The end result is one of Freedy's most varied and sonically satisfying releases.

As always, Freedy's songs shine light into life's darker corners, deftly illuminating small but profound moments of loss and longing. Nonetheless, the mood here is decidedly brighter than on the thematically downhearted Blue Days, Black Nights. "In a lot of ways, this album is the opposite of Blue Days, which I guess is an obvious thing to do, like tacking back and forth in a sailboat," he says.

Highlights include the album opener "Broken Mirror," a classic piece of Freedy introspection; "Waste Your Time," a flat-out rocker about a bitter relationship; the sweet, Bacharach-esque "That's Alright With Me"; and the irrepressible pop-rocker "Anyone." The sad, exquisitely beautiful "Radio For Heartache," another standout, was originally intended for Blue Days, Black Nights, but Freedy wasn't satisfied with the recording. "I had made a demo, and then we recorded it over and over and over, but we just couldn't get the right feel. Eventually, my manager Lalou (Dammond) dug out the original demo and pointed out that that was the best version. She was right, of course. It's just me in my apartment, singing and playing my great-grandfather's banjo. It just works."

In a significant first for Freedy, the album contains a cover song, an ebullient rendition of "Love Grows," the 1970 sparkler originally performed by Edison Lighthouse; the track is the album's first single. "I'm a big fan of late '60s and'70s pop," Freedy says. "In fact, we formed a cover band out in Madison just to be able to play those Camaro classics - you know, 'Feel Like Making Love,' 'Dance the Night Away,' that sort of thing. The Know-It-All-Boyfriends, we're called. I've found lots of riffs to steal by learning those songs."

Although on the surface it might seem odd for a songwriter as accomplished as Freedy to record a cover song, it actually makes perfect sense when you consider that Freedy's writing style is firmly rooted in the classic pop tradition of the 1970s. Songs like "Love Grows" or some of the other covers he's been known to perform live - "Wichita Lineman," "Bus Stop," "The Look Of Love," to name a few - tell stories of the all-too-human moments we share with one another, a theme that recurs often in Freedy's music.

"The best pop songs capture something universal, some experience that speaks to everyone," he says. "Everytime you hear them, and for that matter, everytime you sing them, they seem fresh, because you can always find something new to discover in them. That's really the ultimate measure of a song's success, and it's certainly something I'm always striving for with my own songs."