A self-taught guitarist, Richard Leo Johnson started playing the six-string when he was 9, receiving his only ôformalö training from a south Arkansas oil field worker that his mother hired. While his ôteacherö offered a bare-bones courseùJohnson recalls that he ôbasically drank beer, played Monkees records for me and said I played too fastöùthe aspiring young guitarist closed himself in his room and made his own rules by creating alternative tunings. Even though he listened to as many guitarists as he couldùincluding Leo Kottke, John McLaughlin, Pete Townsend and Jimi HendrixùJohnson set off on a course of developing his own voice.
After pursuing a career in architectural photographyùhe holds a masters degree in visual arts and has had his photos published in such magazines as House and Garden and Custom Homes as well as exhibited in such galleries as the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the New Orleans Museum of ArtùJohnson eventually found his way into the guitar fold. After winning a competition in Arkansas, Johnson made some homespun recordings (including his 1995 CD Creatures of Habit) and began to find favor with acoustic music audiences eager to hear a fresh and unpredictable guitar sound. Johnson eventually signed with Blue Note Records and released Fingertip Ship on the Metro Blue imprint.