We are thrilled to announce that American Idol’s Caleb Johnson will be performing during our 2014 Waltrip Brothers’ Champions Dinner presented by HendrickCars.com!
In the tradition of rock & roll’s most iconic performers, Caleb Johnson turns his own passion and unrest into music with a fierce and gut-punching but wildly uplifting emotional power. Winner of the thirteenth season of American Idol, the 23-year-old North Carolina native has already electrified audiences of millions with his commanding vocals and a fiery energy that honors his longtime love of hard rock and heavy metal. Now on his first album Testify—a bombastic yet undeniably soulful debut whose title nods to its revival-like spirit—Johnson further proves his vitality as a vocalist while also revealing his dynamic sense of genre-bending songwriting.
Throughout Testify, Johnson—a lifelong music obsessive equally inspired by the Southern soul of Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, the classic rock of Led Zeppelin and Queen, and the heavy metal of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest—flaunts his versatility by tearing through brutal and blistering barnburners, blues-soaked rock numbers, and heart-on-sleeve ballads with an unstoppable intensity. Johnson co-wrote nearly every song on the album, heading into the studio soon after claiming his Idol victory and working nonstop to bring Testify’s boundary-blurring but wholly unified sound to life. “After the show there was this great momentum going, so I wanted to keep that up and get writing and bang out as many songs as I could,” explains Johnson, who enlisted Howard Benson (Rascal Flatts, The All-American Rejects, My Chemical Romance) as producer on Testify. “The whole process was really organic and spontaneous, and what ended up coming through were songs that are powerful and dramatic and sometimes theatrical, but always with this totally visceral feeling to them.”
Written and recorded in just three frenetic weeks, Testify harnesses the feverish energy of the album-making process and intensifies it with Johnson’s stunning vocals and the furious playing of Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney, former Nine Inch Nails/Guns N’ Roses drummer Josh Freese, and guitarist Phil X (a multi-instrumentalist who’s previously played with Rob Zombie and Tommy Lee). Just as Johnson’s vocal performance showcases his staggering range, Testify affirms his chameleon-esque ability to take on so many subgenres of rock & roll with ferocity and ease. Songs like “Sailing Away” (a full-on, awesomely escapist rock anthem built on lead-heavy riffs and pile-driving rhythm) find Johnson matching each shredding guitar solo with soaring vocal flights, while the aching piano ballad “Fighting Gravity” and the huge-hearted, acoustic-guitar-laced “Only One” illuminate his more tender side. On the smoldering “Save Me,” swampy guitar tones and bluesy grooves tangle with gospel-like harmonies as Johnson gives his own twist on the age-old lyrical plea for redemption (“Save me/Save half of my soul”). And with “Let Me In” (featuring Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ formidable horn section), Testify transforms into an all-out Stax-style explosion with Johnson gloriously taking the helm as a powerhouse preacher of soul.
While Johnson was raised on rock & roll—thanks mainly to his Aerosmith-loving mom—it wasn’t until his late teens that he began thrilling audiences with his Freddie Mercury-inspired vocal stylings. Johnson’s singing breakthrough happened at a high school talent show in his hometown of Asheville, when his performance of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song left the crowd floored. “When I heard the audience erupt, it just gave me the chills and I realized that making music was what I wanted to do with my life,” he says. “After that, I started singing every day and just immersed myself in the craft of performing and tried to hone that in. It was completely my passion.” Forming his first band in 2010 and spending the next few years touring regionally and cutting an album, Johnson made his way onto the thirteenth season of American Idol and eventually seized his victory by reworking songs from the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, Faces, and the Rolling Stones with his deeply passionate delivery.
As he moves forward with his music on Testify, Johnson notes a guiding principle of his songwriting is to build off his Southern roots with sounds and textures discovered through his years of exploring all strains of rock & roll. “Being from the South is something that gets into your blood and your soul, and I think that comes out very clearly in my music,” he says. Also fascinated by the over-the-top vocals and macabre imagery of heavy metal—and with ambitions of someday diving into film-directing and making a movie that honors his loves of rock & roll and horror—Johnson tempers his more unbridled influences with a sense of songcraft inspired by seminal melodists like Bernie Taupin and Paul McCartney. The result, as heard on Testify, is a breed of rock music that’s fresh but timeless, with extraordinary staying power. “There’s a lot of different flavors in these songs—the old-school blues jams and the straight-up, church-of-rock-and-roll-type songs and the stripped-down ballads—and the thing they have in common is they’re all done with total conviction and soul,” says Johnson of Testify. “I think you can really feel that shining through on the album, and to put all those songs out into the world and know that I’ll have them with me until the day I die is such an amazing feeling.”