Donald Ray Johnson closes Bryan Blues Festival in style


The second annual 2013 Bryan Blues Festival is now an important part of history in the Brazos Valley, and what a conclusion the overflow (again) crowd experienced Saturday night with the astounding dynamic blues by Bryan native Donald Ray Johnson, who showed his powerful voice that truly soared across the night air and left nothing but good vibrations for all who were lucky enough to hear him sing.

If the blues had a royal family, surely Johnson would be the king of vocals, just as he took command of the stage and effortlessly directed the wonderful backing musicians of Eugene Eugene and the Solid Foundation band. Band members include: Eugene Smith (keys), Ernest Gibbs (drums), James Gibbs (bass), Renn Carson (guitar), and Ralph Moncivais (sax). RDM Audio kept the sound just right for the huge crowd that once again spilled out of the Palace Theatre and onto the sidewalks of Main Street in downtown Bryan.

Downtown is a place that Johnson knows well, as he grew up here, but has since developed a successful career as an international recording artist and he’s based today in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Now, if you don’t know his background, and if you check out his web site, you’ll see that he’s just as talented a drummer as he is a vocalist. In fact, it was for his drumming that Johnson won a Grammy on a song from the disco era that three decades of music lovers know every note, every lyric, ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie.”

Yes, Donald Ray was one of the four members of “A Taste of Honey” and yet, his latest vocal CDs have you focused so much on his wonderful voice that you forget he’s a drummer, too. But, Johnson didn’t need to be behind the kit, thanks to the incredibly talented James Gibbs on the drums, who kept that beat going and going and going some more for Johnson.

Among Donald Ray’s music honors, he was voted Best Male Blues Vocalist by Real Blues Magazine, and he’s toured with other big names including Phillip Walker, Big Mama Thornton, Teddy Pendergrass, The Isley Brothers, and Smokey Wilson.

A modest man, with no reason to have to be, Donald Ray Johnson appeared so happy to be back home in Bryan for the weekend and you’d never suspect he didn’t just live around the corner, but that’s the caliber of talent that Blues Festival founder Nat Dove can pull in, simply by calling his friends and saying, “come back home to Bryan.” The two-day festival featured performers Blynd Orange Jefferson, Ciarra Marcel, Nisha, Panzie Johnson and founder, multiple blues award winner, Nat Dove, with Mr. Douglas Boone (the Professor on KEOS-FM radio) as emcee for both evenings.

On a less musical note, Johnson looked resplendant onstage wearing a three-piece suit showing respect for his hometown crowd, this despite weather that was in the 90s for most of the evening, and despite some big fans blowing the hot air around, it was so greatly appreciated to see how performers respect the blues as all came on stage so nicely dressed, you wished that today’s “youngsters” could take a lesson about presentation for performers!

The festival was a resounding success and much credit should be given to the City of Bryan, the effort there led by Bryan Council Member Paul Madison, who was the one-man rooting section to make sure Bryan had its inaugural blues festival last year, and made sure it returned again this year.

Dawn Lee Wakefield, Texas A&M University Arts Examiner
Dawn Lee Wakefield covers music, merriment, and entertainment in Brazos Valley/Houston, & offers occasional opinions on whatever strikes her fancy in Aggieland, especially Women’s Basketball. Write her at or connect on Facebook.