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Beatles fan's song has fun with blame-Yoko legend

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Johnson, who grew up a coal-mining family in Morgantown, lives in Nashville, Tenn. He is about to release his second album, "Still Pissed at Yoko," about the breakup of the Beatles, the iconic band of the 1960s.

"Of course, we aren't really pissed at Yoko and truly wish her the best," said Johnson, 46. "We just couldn't resist having a little fun in the irreverent spirit of the Beatles."

Johnson recorded music for his new seven-song album with several of Nashville's famous singers and instrumentalists. Gordon Stoker and the Jordanaires, the backup quartet for many of Elvis Presley's songs, play backup for three of Johnson's new songs.

Johnson's engaging title song, which he co-wrote with John Colgin, refers to the breakup of the Beatles in April 1970. John Lennon met Yoko Ono in 1968; they began a close relationship in 1969 and Lennon soon divorced his wife, Cynthia.

Ono's efforts to influence musical recordings by the Beatles stirred discontent among the band's other three members: Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. But they were already going their own ways by the late 1960s, before the final breakup of the world-famous quartet.

"She certainly didn't break the group up," Paul McCartney said last year, adding Lennon was "definitely going to leave." McCartney credited Ono for her creative inspiration, which he said led to Lennon's writing of the legendary tune "Imagine."

(Lennon was killed outside his Manhattan apartment in December 1980, by a 25-year-old man apparently seeking to draw attention to himself.)

The video for "I'm Still Pissed at Yoko" is filled with memorable images, including Johnson dressed in black suits and Sgt. Pepper-style jackets, several bass guitars and photographs of London when the Beatles performed there in the 1960s.

The video also features a beautiful array of colorful butterflies, birds, sunflowers, dandelions, trees, blue skies, peace symbols and one large beetle.

More information about the new album, which will be officially released Sept. 24, can be found at http://georgejohnson.com. The video of "I'm Still Pissed at Yoko" is available at http://stillpissedatyoko.com/#merchandise.

"We are trying to tip our hat to the Beatles," Johnson said. "The new album also has country, pop, soul and rhythm-and-blues songs."

His first album, "George Johnson: Featuring the Jordanaires & the Memphis Horns," was released in May 2012. It includes songs ranging from old-school rock 'n' roll to slow blues and country.

Johnson wrote or co-wrote all 15 songs on that album and produced it on his own label, Geo Music.

Johnson was born in Morgantown, where his family was involved in coal mining, real-estate development and operating docks for large barges along the Monongahela River.

"I was in Morgantown until I was 17," Johnson said. "Then I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was a business and accounting major for my first semester. Then I switched to classical music.

"I have played guitar since I was 7 and started to write songs. I also played piano. But I knew I wasn't a classical musician and knew I had to do pop songs."

After living in Boulder for 18 months, Johnson transferred to California State in Los Angeles, where he majored in jazz composition. He was in Los Angeles for six years but never finished his degree at California State.

"I ended up co-writing and co-creating cartoons. I was also doing music the whole time and got to meet a lot of artists and writers," Johnson said.

"After about six years in Los Angeles, I came back to Morgantown and went to school at West Virginia University for about a year. But I was doing music again and never finished WVU.

"Then, in 1997, I ended up coming down to Nashville. So I have been down here for years."

Johnson's diverse career also included brief ventures into business and politics.

In 2000 and 2001, Johnson was a spokesman for Vance Terminals, the river dock company in Morgantown owned by his father, Darwin Johnson. Vance Terminals helped transport coal along the Monongahela River.

In late 2005, George Johnson decided to enter the 2006 primary for the Republican nomination to run against longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

Johnson left the race in January 2006, when Morgantown businessman John Raese announced he would challenge Byrd. Johnson then ran for the House of Delegates. Both Raese and Johnson lost.

"Over the years, I have learned to make my own records," Johnson said. "Living in Nashville, I am extremely lucky to be able to work with some of the best musicians in the world."

"Mountaineers Are Always Free" is another song featured on his new CD. "I wrote it with a buddy of mine in Nashville. We all love John Denver's 'Country Roads.'

"This is my West Virginia song. We recorded it for my new album. I also sang that with the Jordanaires."

Excerpted lyrics from 'I'm Still Pissed at Yoko'

I love the Beatles just the way they were.

Why did he ever have to fall in love with her

And break up the greatest group the world had ever known?

Sometimes perfection is better left alone.

I'm still pissed at Yoko. I'll never understand

Why she thought she had a place in Sergeant Pepper's Band. ...

I love the Beatles, when four was just enough.

Forty years with two new songs makes life a little tough.

I had to write this song and get it off my chest.

I feel better now and I wish her all the best.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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