Jamey Johnson Debuts New Song at Under The Big Sky Fest

There are many folks out there doing their damnedest to preserve the roots and traditions of country music. But if you were making a list of the top torch bearers, flame keepers, and folks that would lay down their lives to uphold the traditions of country music, Jamey Johnson would have to be at or near the top of that list.

After playing through some of his most recognizable songs, Jamey Johnson dedicates the balance of his live shows to playing old country standards, and this is what the assembled throng experienced as he took the Big Mountain stage at the Under The Big Sky Festival in Whitefish, Montana Saturday night (7-16).

After playing “High Cost of Living,” “That Lonesome Song,” “Can’t Cash My Checks,” and “In Color,” he launched into a slowed-down, soulful rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” that had everyone who was in attendance talking about it over the weekend as one of the most memorable moments of the fest. Johnson also played Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Gonna Live Forever,” “East Bound and Down,” and “Tulsa Time” before finishing his hour-long set with a Gospel tune.

With a band that now consists of a horn section, multiple lead guitars, and of course “Cowboy” Eddie Long on steel guitar, each song Johnson plays tends to be elongated. Some are frustrated with Jamey Johnson, wishing he would release new material. After all, his last original album was nearly 12 years ago. But the way he sees it, the old songs are more important than anything he could come up with, and he doesn’t mind being a vessel for them.

As Johnson said last year, “Townes Van Zandt’s not around anymore to sing his songs, so somebody’s got to sing them. Vern Gosdin, he’s not here today. Neither is Merle Haggard, and neither is George Jones. And without people like me out there covering those songs, they just stop. If nobody was singing Johnny Cash, there’s a whole generation that would grow up without Johnny Cash. And if you ask me, that’s not going to be a good world.

But Johnson has been doing some co-writes since the release of his last original album, The Guitar Song in 2010, including with George Strait and The Steel Woods. And he did play a new song during his stellar set at Under The Big Sky Fest. “I don’t do new songs very often, but I wrote this one a couple of weeks ago. It’s about an old friend of mine,” Johnson said, and launched into the new song, likely called “21 Guns.”

It’s about a fallen soldier, and Johnson played it just by himself, acoustic. Johnson himself served in the United States Marine Corps for four years before launching his country music career.

Saving Country Music’s policy is to not share unreleased songs unless they’re exceptional, and even then, sparingly. A new song from Jamey Johnson is exceptional though, and perhaps may signal he’s starting to get more back into the songwriting game. There is a video of Johnson performing the song in Oklahoma earlier in the week, and he’s performed it a couple of other times as well. But for those who don’t want to totally spoil it before they see him live or the song is released in studio form, here are the lyrics below.

Sitting in this field of limestone
Watching flags wave in the
You know we’d love to take you back home
But there ain’t no place like this there

Preacher stammers through a nice verse
Does his best to eulogize
But times like this, there ain’t no right words
The rifles fire and your life flashes right before my eyes

And I don’t need no one to tell me you’re a hero
Hell I’ve known that every since you were young
There are no words to say how proud we all are of you son
Nothing says job well done like 21 guns

The dressed you up in your best uniform
Pinned your medals on your chest
That folded flag they gave your mama
Seemed to say we all know you did your best

But I don’t need no one to tell me you’re a hero
Hell I’ve known that every since you were young
There are no words to say how proud we all are of you son
Nothing says job well done like 21 guns

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