Talented multi-instrumentalist David Ray Johnson was born in Millers Creek in 1954 to Billie Ray and Elizabeth Caudill Johnson. David comes from a musical family. His grandfather, Bill Johnson played clawhammer-style banjo and made guitars, banjos and fiddles. David’s father played guitar with the Foggy River Boys on WKBC Radio in North Wilkesboro and later joined the Rocky Road Boys. David’s mother, Elizabeth (Betty), also plays the guitar.
David Johnson’s musical interests were evident when he began playing his father’s Gibson guitar at the age of four. Two years later he received a Kay acoustic guitar as a gift from his father. He also learned instrument making. Just as his grandfather taught his father, David’s father taught him how to build and repair musical instruments. By age ten David was playing in his father’s square dance band, the Country Ramblers. He soon developed performance abilities on the banjo and fiddle and, in 1969, picked up the steel guitar to play in Marshall Craven’s local band, the Country Cousins. Johnson played with the Country Cousins for twelve years.
On January 1, 1981, Johnson formed Dixie Dawn, his own local group that became popular as the house band at Shadrack’s in Boone and at Jubilee Junction in Wilkesboro. Dixie Dawn has recorded about half a dozen records and continues to play gigs on a limited basis.
David has devoted much of his time to the studio, performing as a session musician and also recording his own material. He began recording at the age of fifteen when he helped produce the soundtrack for a Les Blank documentary film about Holly Farms Foods (now Tyson Foods) in North Wilkesboro. Other musicians who played on the soundtrack included Marshall Craven, Drake Walsh, and David’s father, Billie Ray Johnson.
David Johnson now works as a session musician. In that role, he has recorded with Ralph Stanley, Tony Rice and Arthur Smith, among others, and has been named National Gospel Studio Musician of the Year. He is also a musician and arranger for Horizon Music, a gospel music company in Asheville, North Carolina. He plays virtually all the string instruments and the harmonica. Many of his recordings appear on the Mountain Home label, including Wooden Offerings (1996) and Praises, Promises & Prayers (1997). In addition to his duties at Horizon, Johnson also does overdub work with Marshall Craven at the Star Recording Company in Millers Creek and dozens of studios in the southeastern United States.
Although much of his time is spent in recording studios, David Johnson performs with his group Dixie Dawn on a limited basis. He also plays occasionally with the John Shuffler Band and other regional groups. He is a professed Christian, and most of his original writings and recordings have leaned toward the gospel genre.