Michael Johns spent every weekend from 1998 to 2002 singing cover songs during the heyday of Buckhead Village nightlife as a regular at CJ’s Landing.
He’d croon for hours in front of the drunken 20-something hordes, learning hundreds of rock songs. He eventually left for Los Angeles in 2002 seeking rock star fame (and even then, he’d return to Atlanta regularly to do gigs.). He nabbed record deals but the records themselves fell through. In 2007, he tried out for “American Idol” and made it on the show season 7, finishing eighth.
Johns, an Australia native, still has plenty of friends in Atlanta and visits at least once a year. “It’s great to be home in Atlanta,” he told the crowd after starting his gig with Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer. “It’s insane!”
Johns took requests (though he demurred when someone asked for Matchbox 20. Thank you, Michael!). He brought back many of his old favorites circa 2002, which included many of 99X’s biggest hits from the 1990s. That meant covers of Sublime and Live. He sang homeland act INXS. He did a little Tom Petty, a bit of Violent Femmes. He even crooned an a capella version of “Dream On,” a song he did on “Idol.” And he sang a sexy “Happy Birthday” to a fan named Cindy.
He also gave copious credit to his friend Brian Witsey, who reunited with him and provided guitar back-up.
Johns was well known for playing Pearl Jam covers in Buckhead. So over the hour and 45 minutes I watched him, he sang six cuts from that band, from “Alive” to “Daughter.” He has an incredible memory for all these old songs. Only one flummoxed him while I was there: “Last Kiss.” “I haven’t sung that sing 2002!” he said. He needed Wiltsey’s help (and the audience, too) to get through the song.
Blaine Terry, one of his close friends from Atlanta who met Johns at CJ’s Landing, said in an interview Monday: “He enjoys it now more than he used to. It’s a chance for all his old friends to get together. He killed it Saturday.”
I was hoping to talk to Johns that night but he would not leave the stage and I had a tennis match the next morning. I was out by 12:15 a.m.
Terry said Johns ultimately stayed on stage for four straight hours, Springsteen style, like the old days. Yowza!