steel guitar player of year

  • Brantford musician nominated as steel guitar player of year

    Doug Johnson is a multiple CCMA nominee

    Doug Johnson

    Doug Johnson

    Brantford's Doug Johnson has been nominated for CCMA's Steel Guitar Player of the Year.
    Brant News

    Multiple Canadian Country Music Association awards nominee Doug Johnson says being nominated for a CCMA award never gets old.

    “I’m honoured as always,” he said. “You would think that it might get old but it doesn’t. It’s always the same feeling.”

    Johnson, who won Steel Guitar Player of the Year in 2001, is nominated for CCMA’s 2016 Steel Guitar Player of the Year.

    The Brantford musician has played steel guitar professionally for the past 44 years, studying at the Ontario Conservatory of Music until he was about 14.

    “I had gone through their classes exceptionally quick,” Johnson said. “I think I was probably gifted in some area and think I picked the right instrument for me.”

    He laughs when asked how he chose the steel guitar over any other instrument.

    “My father gave me a choice,” Johnson said. “He said ‘if you had a choice of any instrument, what instrument would you play.’”

    His father listed off drums, bass and guitar. The radio was on at the time and Johnson heard the steel guitar in a song.

    “I said ‘that.’ I didn’t even know what it was but I said ‘whatever that is,’” Johnson said. “It’s that sound of the steel guitar, whether it touched something in me, it stayed with me my entire life. It still fascinates me to this day.”

    Predominantly used in country music, the steel guitar can also add depth and substance to other music genres, including jazz, rock, hillbilly and rockabilly.

    “There’s something about the emotion of steel guitar,” Johnson said. “In my lifetime I have seen people start to cry when they hear it. It really touches a person’s soul.”

    Johnson – who is primarily a session player - was called on to play steel guitar on a rock record.

    “When they called me for the session they said ‘it’s not country, would you consider coming and seeing if steel guitar would work on the song?’”

    When he arrived they did a quick run-through of the song and Johnson applied the steel guitar where he thought it would fit best.

    “It was a rock ballad,” he said. “I looked up and the producer had left the chair and I’m thinking ‘oh, oh, they’re thinking of a nice way to say goodbye.’ The artist gets on the talk button and says ‘Doug we will continue, our producer is just outside crying.’”

    Months after the project was finished Johnson received a letter from the artist thanking him for playing on their record. She added a post script that said, “he still cries when he hears it.”

    Johnson was born and raised in Brantford and while he travels near and far to play with larger bands, he rarely performs locally.

    “My music takes me all over the place but not here as much as maybe I would like,” Johnson said. “But I have to admit I’m more nervous in my hometown. I think because there may be an image of some sort that you expect people at home are carrying of you and what if you don’t live up to it?’

    “I’ve been in front of crowds of 70,000 people and not be nervous then I come home and I play to a smaller crowd and I’m nervous.”

    Steel guitar is currently experiencing a lull right now, with fewer top recording artists using it in their music. CCMA recently reversed a decision to retire steel guitar as a CCMA category and instead place it under a special instrument player category.

    “Steel guitar is associated with country music very, very strongly,” Johnson said. “(Retiring it) would be like taking a bluegrass award system and pulling banjo out of that.

    “Steel guitar is very cyclical in country music. (It) has always been a sweetening instrument to make a song sweeter and in a lot of cases I’ve been called into a studio because the song has gone in the wrong direction…so it’s very important that it stay as a recognized instrument.”

    Steel guitar and fiddle have been said to be the most complicated instruments to play.

    When guitar players ask Johnson’s advice about beginning to play steel guitar the first advice he utters is “patience.

    “It will take you six months to make that thing sound like anything other than someone stepped on the cat. It’s a very difficult instrument to play because that bar, if you slant it one way or another, everything sounds out of tune and when it’s out of tune, it’s pretty brutal.”

    Johnson also plays in a Tillsonburg band called Southbound.

    The CCMA Awards will be hosted in London and aired on CBC on Sunday, Sept. 11.