Phil & Gaye Johnson Liner Notes (May 14, 1993)
Oh, what a time it was, those days of The Liberty Flyer. The Linear Group of Asheville, NC had the audacity back in ‘85 to put a folk/bluegrass radio show out on the wind to some 115 commercial stations across the United States in addition to Armed Forces Radio Network worldwide. I remember days of cold calling program directors and nights of brain storming wrapping around hours of preparing and mailing press releases. For all our efforts to promote the program right up until the money ran out we never lost sight of producing an outstanding radio show that exposed thousands of listeners to the folk, acoustic country, and bluegrass of the mid-1980s. The Liberty Flyer featured regular segments from John Hartford and the late Gamble Rogers along with weekly in-concert guests that ranged from Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys to Chris Hillman, the Johnson Mountain Boys to the Whites.
Despite all the special guests, no doubt existed that the real stars of The Liberty Flyer remained Phil & Gaye Johnson from Tryon, North Carolina, the home of America’s smallest daily newspaper. After recording and playing as a duo for several years, Phil & Gaye fronted a full band for show with Fred Baille on lead guitar and Hillary Dirlam playing bass. The ensemble gave Phil, ever inventive, the freedom to experiment with such ideas as finger-picking his Dobro and playing mandolin with a slide. Most of all, it allowed him, in concert with Fred, to open up their arrangements of both Phil’s strong original songs and carefully selected covers for the bigger sound.
That sound, as showcased each week on The Liberty Flyer’s opening and closing theme song composed by Phil, focus on the down-to-earth yet simultaneously ethereal vocals of Gaye Johnson. She proved one of those singers that you could hear night after night, as we did in those days whether rehearsing, recording the shows at Bill Stanley’s or the Asheville Junction or listening to the playback, without ever being able to not pay attention. Phil and Fred put a lot of effort into finding the right material for Gaye, yet is was not the songs but her wondrously expressive voice–2 parts pure mountain folk and one part contemporary country, that held our attention.
And getting that voice out the general public is what’s so important about this project, not my nostalgia trip. All these selections were recorded for The Liberty Flyer since, as hosts, Phil & Gaye sang one to three songs each week. About half appeared on a limited-distribution album, the rest have never before seen commercial release. Better late than never because this disk celebrates a singer and a songwriter who both deserve much greater recognition. You need to find Phil & Gaye Johnson.