Jacob Johnson cover of Allman Bros "Jessica" with Marcus King Band rhythm section

Article Contributed by 1888 Media | Published on Saturday, June 22, 2024

Rising virtuoso Jacob Johnson has announced the June 21 release of his soul-affirming, spiritually-uplifting version of “Jessica,” the iconic, transcendent Allman Brothers classic.

Penned by late ABB guitarist Dickey Betts, along with contributions from guitarist Les Dudek, the original composition was named after Betts’ 1-year old daughter who crawled into the room while the song was being workshopped. Released in August 1973 as a part of the album, Brothers and Sisters, the 7-1/2 minute instrumental debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 a few months later and then in 1996, a live recording included on 'An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band: 2nd Set’ won a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards.

With Betts recent passing, Johnson sees the rendition as a tribute to the great composer and musician but also in honor of his wife who, like many other young girls in the era, was named because of it. This confluence of circumstances added to the gravity and magnitude of presenting the song respectfully while also adhering to a Southern tradition of courtship.

“It’s an unwritten rule for musicians that if your darlin' (that's how we say "significant other" or "partner" in the south) is named after a famous song, you must learn the song, and you must use it to serenade them. My wife was named after a 7-minute Allman Brothers jam so I put together a solo/acoustic version that I later played as she danced with her dad at our wedding reception on May 31, 2019. It's been knocking around in my head since then, and earlier this year I decided it was time to flesh out the arrangement with some collaborators,” said Johnson.

“Of course, this entire project was created with lots of love and respect for its composer, the great Dickey Betts, who we lost not long after production was completed. If you know southern music, you know he was one of the greats. Though I never had the opportunity to meet the man, I hope that my arrangement and attention to the details of this composition can honor his legacy in some small way.”

Being stationed in Greenville, SC, home to breakout act The Marcus King Band, Johnson was able to enlist MKB’s rhythm section, Jack Ryan on drums and Stephen Campbell on bass to join the proceedings with the legendary Mickey Raphael of Willie Nelson & Family on harmonica elevating the mood with an undeniable groove. Overall, the rendition faithfully memorializes parts of the original but adds a distinctive cosmic Grateful Dead flair as the arrangement floats higher and higher into the ether.

Johnson fondly recalls the session. “Jack and Stephen had some down time back in February between tours, so we got together and laid down the rhythm tracks at Jack's home studio. I had the parts worked out on solo guitar, but it's not a simple song! It took us some serious time and sweat to take it apart and put it back together with the band, but it was important to all of us to get it right. That's the tricky balance with arranging. I want to make it my own, but all of the compositional elements need to be there in some form or I don't feel like I've done the song justice. Once we had the rhythm tracks, we talked about a few possible guest artists for the solo section, but Mickey was my first pick. I sent him a rough mix, and he was into it. Mickey's played on some of my all-time favorite records, so it really feels special to have some of that magic on the track”.

Magic is a path in which he has reckoned. Beginning with his now out-of-print 2007 debut 'Est 1986,’ his 2013 Holiday album, ‘Wild and Sweet: A Christmas Album’ and 2014’s ‘One-Take Jake’ to last year’s EP, ‘The Sketchiest Motel in Fayetteville,” Johnson has woven his predilection for skilled arrangements and mind-bending musicianship with his love of history and pop culture.

Fans and critics both applaud his interstellar circle around the sun on "Chim Chim Cheree,” an interpolation of the 1965 Oscar winner for ‘Best Original Song,’ a minor-key waltz for the Walt Disney movie, Mary Poppins. Written by Richard and Robert Sherman (The Sherman Brothers) who researched British folklore related to chimney sweeps, the original ditty is brought to life by Dick Van Dyke (“Bert”), and Julie Andrews (“Mary”) as well as Karen Dotrice (“Jane”) and Matthew Garber (“Michael”).

Other repertoire standouts in Johnson’s catalog include the dexterity masterpiece, “8 O’Clock Jive” and the free-flowing levity of the rock-leaning, “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” named after the heralded author who wrote The Great Gatsby. It’s a song about being on the road with someone you love, in a car old enough to have an ashtray, listening to Jerry Reed and Kris Kristofferson through a cassette adapter. Old souls who know.

Beyond his guitar prowess, Johnson has proven himself as a talented songwriter, garnering recognition as the Don Gibson Songwriter Award Grand Prize Winner, Nashville Connection ‘Songwriter of the Year,’ and a Finalist for the Freshgrass No Depression Songwriter Award. His ability to craft captivating and heartfelt songs has earned him performances at prestigious music festivals such as the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in New York, the Walnut Valley Festival in Kansas, the Wildflower Music Festival in Texas, and countless others.

Since dropping out of college in 2007, Johnson has journeyed across the country in six minivans (so far), captivating audiences with his highly caffeinated brand of acoustic guitar playing which The Florence Morning News in Florence, SC describes as “Norman Rockwell paintings and the open road” with No Depression adding, “The guitar is not just an instrument – it’s his soul-mate.”

Crystalline pyrotechnics.

This metaphysical connection elicits kinetic performances which have been recognized by Tommy Emmanuel (“Jacob rocks!”), Phil Keaggy (“You are a remarkable performer”), and John Popper of Blues Traveler (“Brilliantly done!! Wow!”). During his nearly 20 year touring career, he’s had the privilege of sharing the stage with Grammy winners like Emmanuel, Paula Cole, Zac Brown Band, and Victor Wooten, as well as esteemed musicians Frank Vignola, Edwin McCain, David Wilcox, Tim Reynolds, Darryl Worley, and many more.

This summer he’ll play shows throughout the Southeast with a special engagement at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) convention in Nashville (July 10-13), which sees 1000 Atkins fans from around the globe gather to celebrate one of the all-time greats while also participating in community building through workshops and jam sessions.

In addition to his busy touring schedule, Johnson’s an adjunct guitar faculty member at North Greenville University, the college he dropped out of. In this ol' wide world, there's no 'appier bloke.

Tour Dates

6/26 – Cleveland, TN – Pokey’s Music Hall

6/27 – Crossville, TN – Palace Theatre

6/28 – Huntsville, AL – Tangled String Studios

6/29 – Hayesville, NC – Peacock Performing Arts Center

6/30 – Spartanburg, SC – Upward Star Center "Freedom Fest"

7/10-13 – Nashville, TN – Chet Atkins Appreciation Society 2024


Jessica (4:54)

Written by Richard Forrest Betts

Guitars: Jacob Johnson

Harmonica: Mickey Raphael

Drums: Jack Ryan

Bass: Stephen Campbell

Keyboards: Aaron Bowen

Produced  by Jacob Johnson

Recorded by Shane Nelson at Asaph Studios & Mike McCarthy in Jack Ryan’s Garage

Mixed by Shane Nelson at Asaph Studios (Greenville, SC)

Mastered by Anna Frick at Airshow Mastering

Artwork: Zach and Emily Landrum