Gary Nicholson as Whitey Johnson
Gary Nicholson may be the busiest man in the roots music business. Make that men, because Nicholson and his white-suited stage persona Whitey Johnson cover an incredible array of talents. Nicholson is a two-time Grammy winning producer and songwriter who’s written multiple number one hits and had more than 500 songs recorded by an array of stars that includes Bonnie Raitt, Garth Brooks, George Strait, B.B King, Delbert McClinton, Wynonna, Gregg Allman, Buddy Guy, Vince Gill and Fleetwood Mac. That’s earned him 26 ASCAP awards and membership in the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame plus nomination for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also contributed to the soundtrack for the Oscar winning film Crazy Heart, and Nicholson himself has guested on television’s Nashville.
As his bluesman alter ego Johnson, he’s a dynamic entertainer whose guitar skills are an equal foil to his astonishing catalog of songs and sense of humor. His insight as a songwriter also plays a role in his astonishing ability to bring tunes to life on stage. Nicholson’s latest album is Texas Songbook, 13 songs ranging from blues to country to rock — styles he absorbed growing up around his native Dallas — all featuring his stalwart guitar and vocals. “Fallin’ & Flyin’,” from Crazy Heart, is the best known, but others are equally stellar. The elegant “She Feels Like Texas” is an instant roadhouse classic, with a swinging arrangement hinged on steel guitar, fiddle and even accordion. “Bless ’Em All” is a prayer for tolerance where Nicholson’s supported by the bona fide deep gospel singing of the internationally known McCrary Sisters. And “Listen To Willie” is a tribute to the Red Headed Stranger.
Besides touring with Delbert McClinton, who has recorded more than 50 of Nicholson’s songs, he’s played on stage and in sessions with Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Tracy Nelson, Bobby Bare and others.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think coming of age in that Dallas-Fort Worth music scene was really important,” says Nicholson. “There’s a certain guitar sound there. It was a great place to come up because there were so many great players around.” Today Nicholson has entered the ranks of the greats himself.