Aledo High School alum Gatlin Johnson might just have the perfect name for a country music singer and songwriter.
A former running back on the Aledo Bearcats football team, Johnson now makes his home in Lubbock where he attends Texas Tech University and pursues a career in country music.
Johnson, 21, said his hometown is still a major part of who he is today.
"I'm very proud to be from Aledo," Johnson said. "It feels like all I did was focus on football and school. A lot of people were really surprised by the whole music thing when I got to college, like, 'What the heck? I didn't know you did that.' But I've come to realize that growing up in Aledo was very special."
So special, in fact, that Johnson's roots in the Aledo area and Parker County play an important part in his music
"I just write songs that mean something to me," Johnson said. "I think that's why they come out that way. Home means a lot to me and that's what I write about. And that's why I think it's cool when people connect with my songs because I'm just writing songs that mean something to me. Seeing that they mean something to other people too is great."
Johnson said that he first became interested in Country music when he was still a boy.
"As a family, we always played music in church," Johnson said. "My dad played guitar and my mom sang. Me and my sister would sing with them, and that was kind of the origin. And then as I got older, I started playing guitar in the church. That was kind of what I did on Sundays. I would play in the church band."
Johnson then started to focus more on football and eventually walked on at West Texas A&M University.
"I played for a year and broke my foot," Johnson said. "In recovering from that, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I picked up the guitar again and that was when I started writing songs.
"Then I posted a video of one of my songs, and someone hit me up about playing the Main Street Festival and Dance in Godley. I went and played it and met some really cool people. A bunch of my family and friends came out and supported me and that was really cool.
"One of the other guys playing there was a guy named Slade Coulter. He was really nice and his band was super cool, and he was really encouraging. He told me to stick with it and keep playing."
When Johnson returned to college, he started playing some open mic nights in Amarillo until a friend of his helped him find a place to play, and got his first gigs set up there.
"I just played at different places in Amarillo after I stopped playing football," Johnson said. "Then I transferred to Texas Tech this past year. I've been in Lubbock since January, and it's starting to pick up.
"It's been really cool to meet a lot of new people. They take care of me and each other. If they need an opener, they will ask me to do it, and while I've been up here I have met some amazing musicians that I have been playing some full band gigs with, which has been really fun."
Johnson counts Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson as a songwriter, and Sturgill Simpson among his influences, and said his favorite part of performing is seeing the crowd's reaction to his work.
"I love it that music connects with people," Johnson said. "I think it's really cool to see how it can move people. I'll write a song, and it may hit somebody in a totally different way than I meant to or maybe exactly the way I meant to. And just the fact that somebody can connect to words that I came up with is exciting."
Johnson has written several songs, and when it comes to which he prefers out of singing or songwriting, he said it is a difficult choice
"I like to do them both," Johnson said. "Part of performing is trying to find the balance between your own songs and covers. Everybody wants to hear George Strait, for instance. So I guess the best part for me would be writing songs that people like and performing them. I've gotten to the point at a few places around here where people know my songs, and I think that is the best part is just performing one of my own songs and having people enjoy it."
Johnson added that his musical career has not been without its challenges, saying there were a few things he did not anticipate.
"One of the tougher parts of the business right now is getting booked at places you want to get booked," Johnson said. "I'll play wherever, really, as long as I have a crowd. The cool thing about Lubbock is that you can really play at any restaurant in town and somebody in there will end up listening to you and maybe staying the whole time.
“Finding full band gigs is my challenge right now because at the end of the day, everybody's got to get paid. I could ask people to play for free, but I don't want to. So finding a place that will pay enough where I can pay everybody is a challenge."
Johnson said there has also been a rather pleasant revelation that really motivates him to keep writing.
"The biggest surprise to me so far is how many people enjoy my songs and are really engaged supporters,” Johnson said. “It has been really cool to see folks responding to my tunes and hitting me up.”
The 2021 AHS graduate plays an average of five gigs a month and is able to cover his expenses by performing.
Johnson said while his focus is Country music, he grew up in a household where all genres were welcome.
"I was exposed to all kinds of music growing up," Johnson said. "My dad was into old Country and would listen to Bon Jovi and other bands. My sister is older than me and she liked new Country, so I was exposed to both of those.
But I really wasn't exposed to Texas Country until I was in high school. And what's kind of funny is that a lot of those songs I didn't hear except for at football practice.”
With being a part of the tradition of football excellence at Aledo High School, Johnson said quitting football to focus his efforts on music and school was difficult to do.
"It was a really tough decision," Johnson said. "I still sometimes think I could have done this or done that, but at the end of the day, nobody knows when the right time to stop playing football is except you.
"It was the right decision at that time. I spent two semesters playing football and got hurt both semesters. I had my first surgery ever, and playing running back on a broken foot was not ideal.
“But I really don't think it was all the injuries for me. Growing up playing high school football in Aledo — it's really tough to match that energy and competitiveness and the camaraderie that existed in the locker room. You kind of find a lot of guys doing it for themselves at the next level, and I wasn't really into that."
But the Parker County man has discovered his true passion, and for that, he is truly grateful.
"I just want to keep gigging and writing," Johnson said. "I have another song coming out and then I have some more projects that I'm really excited about at the beginning of 2024. One is a video and recording project I have planned for early January that should be released no later than March, which I am super pumped about. It's to just kind of show everybody what it's like to do music in Lubbock, Texas."
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