Cover singer finds his own voice9/6/2017
For the last several years, Royce Johns has been making his living as a musician using the oft-necessary sin of playing covers. He’s regularly playing more than 20 shows a month, for hours each night.
This month he’s releasing his first EP, and while he’s using it to focus on his original material, it still features one cover. But unlike the hit country songs he plays at his live shows, it’s probably not one you’re familiar with. It’s Keith Whitley’s “Tell Lorrie I Love Her,” which the late country star only ever recorded as a demo, six years before the 22-year-old Johns was born.
“The oldest musical memory I have is my dad having a tape with that song on it,” Johns said. “(Whitley) recorded it right before he died for his wife, Lorrie Morgan. It never got to radio quality; it was like a scratch track. I didn’t really want to put a cover on the recording, but it’s just such a great song, and it hasn’t really been done by anyone.”
Other than the Whitley cover, Johns’ EP includes a mix of his classic rock and honky tonk influences. Other than the drums, he performed all the parts himself at 4K Studios in Boone.
Johns has a lot of country influences who you know from one name: Waylon, Willie, Merle, Conway. He’s drawn to the harmonies, as well as the steel guitar (which he wants to learn to play).
“I’ve always loved country before anything else,” Johns said. My grandparents used to play a lot of country music from the ’40s through the ’60s. My grandparents and their parents were dirt poor, and that’s where a lot of that music came from. That’s where I came from.”
Johns is keeping up his 20-some shows a month into November, but after that he’s keeping his options open. It’s a frantic pace of shows, even for a young musician.
“The last thing I want to do is burn myself out,” Johns said. “But I’d also like to keep my reputation for kicking ass and taking names. I’ve never been super good at anything, but I can outwork anybody. The best musicians aren’t always the best musicians; they’re just the hardest workers. My philosophy is I’m going to outplay everybody. It’s not a competition, but that’s how I feel. I’m never content just sitting on something. A lot of people in my spot would just chill, but that would drive me nuts.”
Two years ago, I interviewed Johns for an article in The Des Moines Register. The then 19-year-old was singing/playing guitar in the cover band Lincoln Rockhouse with two bandmates in their 60s (he’s been filling in on bass for them lately). At the time, Johns said, “The Beatles suck,” resulting in cringes from the other members of Lincoln Rockhouse. Now that he’s two years older and wiser, has he learned the error of his ways?
“I think I spoke too soon on that; I kind of regret it,” Johns said. “After listening to ‘Sgt. Pepper’ a lot, I love that album.”
There’s always hope for the future.