Best Songwriter - 2004
As a creative idiom, the blues in St. Louis has barely survived; the well of songwriting from which all those bar bands guzzle all those tunes has all but dried up. Chris Johnson isn't a bluesman, not exactly, but his lyrical creations and gritty fingerpicking tap into the country blues with the idiosyncrasy and individualism of a Woody Guthrie or Townes Van Zandt. Give him a down-home archetype like the hound dog and his imagination leaps off the porch. Give him JFK and he twists history with shifty wit: "Marilyn was in the bathroom/Khrushchev was on the line/Jackie had another pillbox hat/We were having a good time." Give him St. Louis and he gives you "Down in Lemay," where the "sound of a player being played" leads to an insight as subtle and true as his talent: "Life is fragile and I'm almost certain it was designed that way."