Singer doesn't compromise principles on 'Barefoot @ Heart'

— The comment was innocent enough, certainly not meant to alter Anthony Johnson’s world in any way.

But it did.

“I was at a youth camp, and I opened my guitar case,” the singer said, recalling a recent performance. “This kid came up, saw my guitar and said, ‘Wow, you have a Martin. You must play really good.’ I started thinking about what he’d said a little later, and it hit me ... that’s how we do.

“We tend to judge things, even other people, by what we see.”

So Johnson sold the instrument he’d grown to love the first chance he got.

“I didn’t want to be known as that guy who plays the Martin guitar,” he said. “I wanted to be known for my music ... for my message.”

Johnson will share his latest take on that message Friday when he hosts a release party at Byne Memorial Baptist Church for his fourth album, “Barefoot @ Heart.” Recorded in the studio he built for himself over the last year, the album shows a continued maturity and offers insight into the inner-most thoughts of the Byne “11:11” contemporary music service worship leader.

“If I don’t experience it, I don’t write it,” Johnson said of the “200 to 300” songs he’s written. “The songs I write are the things God has taught me. I try to articulate life experiences for people who can’t. It’s an honor to do that.

“I have a huge goal to be a full-time musician/songwriter. But no matter what I do, I will still be honest with my music. I see so many musicians who compromise their beliefs, compromise who they are, for a buck. I can’t do that.”

Johnson grew up in Sylvester, homeschooled by parents who were part of an extended musical family. He started playing guitar at age 5 and can now play “anything that’s got strings.” Early on, he’d perform for his family, but the thought of singing publicly never occurred to Johnson until his sister asked him to write music to one of the many poems she’d written.

That composition — “Touch the Sky” — sparked something in the budding musician.

“It says in the Bible you should ‘covet the best gifts’,” Johnson said, “and I thought my sister had a wonderful talent. After writing the music for her poem, and getting asked to do some things in church, it occurred to me that maybe I did have something to offer.

“But I decided back then when I first started this that anything I did would be to glorify God, not me.”

As word of mouth spread about Johnson’s talent, he started getting more requests to play. He started performing regularly at churches, coffee shops and youth camps, and soon he took the plunge and decided to record some of the songs he’d been writing.

In 2003 Johnson released “Legacy,” and he followed up that debut with “Renewed” in 2004. The singer’s third album of his unique “Christian, Americana, inspirational-type” music, 2006’s “Almost Alone,” set the tone for his most mature work yet. “Barefoot @ Heart” is a pleasant mix of uplifting tunes that would stand up well on a Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz collection.

“The main goal I have for my music is for the people who hear it to be enriched,” said Johnson, an Albany Technical College-trained paramedic who works with the independent Gold Star EMS emergency transport company. “I think I get the closest to that with the new album.

“I love all of the songs I’ve written, but I feel that God allowed me to write ‘Funeral of Me’ in a moment of inspiration. It’s a song about me speaking my own eulogy. It’s about opportunities squandered, about applying the Biblical principle of ‘don’t just be hearers of the Word, be doers of the Word’.”

Johnson will play the songs on “Barefoot @ Heart” at Friday’s release party and tell stories about each of the songs. Copies of the album will be available for $10, but admission to the party is free. The singer does ask that all who attend bring a pair of shoes to donate to the international Shoes That Fit organization.

“I’ve never done an album that’s this transparent,” Johnson said. “Isiah talks in the Bible about being stripped, barefoot and naked, wearing the ‘inner garment’ as a symbol of repentance. This is me putting that principle to action.

“I believe when people compromise their principles, their integrity is lost. I’m not perfect; I’m flawed. That imperfection is part of the message of this music.”

Friday’s release party kicks off at 7 p.m.