ARTICLE BY THE NORTHERN DAILY LEADER
JAMES Johnston has been in the music game since he was a child, but he’s skyrocketed to the top of the country industry in the past year.
He’s up for six Golden Guitar awards in 2023 – and it’s his first time even being nominated.
The musician journeyed to the Tamworth Country Music Festival from the age of six until 16, from Wingham near Taree, where he grew up.
“Mum and dad would be standing around feeding me Gatorades in the sweltering heat as I’d be busking for hours and hours,” he said.
“I’d spend a whole week here and then go home and count my 20 cent pieces.”
In true teenage fashion, at 16 years old, he decided he didn’t like his parents’ favourite genre anymore.
“I just decided I didn’t like country music anymore,” he said.
“Because you don’t like what your parents like, right?”
In 2009, he placed third in the seventh and final season of Australian Idol, and made the top 24 of the sixth season of X Factor Australia. He played in a funk band, and made acoustic folk music.
But, he was pulled back to his roots.
“Every single person around me was like, ‘when are you gonna get back to country?’ he said.
“And finally, when I got back to country, it all started making sense.”
His debut release Raised Like That is the story of his upbringing growing up on a little property on the outskirts of town.
“I wanted people just to get to know me a little bit better,” he said.
“And if you listen to that song, you get to know my story.”
During his experimentation in different genres, he felt he was always playing a character.
“Whereas country, I’m a country boy. I’m just telling my story,” he said.
“All the songs that I put out, are just the stories of my life, and there is no facade, there’s no creating a narrative or trying to be something.
“Country music is all about authenticity.”
His experiences before he went back to country weren’t defining moments in his career, he said. It wasn’t until he released his own music that it kicked off.
“All those little chapters throughout my life and throughout my musical career have allowed me to kind of do what I do now,” he said.
“But only until I started really telling my story, I started kind of building an audience that really loved my music.”
It’s the musician’s first time being nominated for a Golden Guitar award, and he’s at the top of the list with three others – Adam Brand, Amber Lawrence and Casey Barnes – as the artist with the most nominations.
The situation is “bizarre”, he said.
“When I found out that I had the most nominations, it was a pretty crazy experience,” he said.
His very first ticketed concert, being held at the TRECC on Wednesday January, 18 is sold out.
The show is the festival event he’s most excited about.
“I’ve played festivals, I’ve played events all around the country, but it’s the first time putting my own show on, and to get to do it at the TRECC is pretty special,” he said.
It’s a big leap for an artist who only played Toyota Fanzone at the festival in April.
Tamworth is part of his musical upbringing, but it’s also full of nostalgia.
His parents, who ran a business, were always busy, he said.
“But that week it was no distractions, we’d stay in a cabin somewhere,” he said.
“It holds really important memories of my childhood.
“I just remember those with such fondness that it was the time when not only I was playing music, but I was also with my family.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the three other artists – Amber Lawrence, Adam Brand and Casey Barnes – who are also nominated for six Golden Guitars at Saturday night’s awards ceremony at TRECC.