Mark Johnson (musician)

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Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
Background information
Birth nameMark Stephen Johnson
Born (1955-05-20) May 20, 1955 (age 68)
Yorktown Heights, New York, United States
GenresAmericana, bluegrass, folk
Occupation(s)Musician, Songwriter, Composer
Instrument(s)Banjo, Guitar
Years active1981–present
LabelsPinecastle, Mountain Home, Bangtown Records

Mark Johnson (born May 20, 1955) is an American banjoist credited with creating a style of five string banjo playing called Clawgrass, which incorporates bluegrass and clawhammer banjo styles as well as bluegrass guitar styles and bluegrass ensemble techniques.[1] He, along with Emory Lester was nominated by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) for a 2007 Instrumental Album of the Year award.[2] and presented with the 2012 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.[3] He is a spokesman for the Deering Banjo Co., which named two Clawgrass model banjos after him.[4]

Mark Johnson, Dunnellon, FL

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was raised in Yorktown Heights, New York and started playing banjo at the age of 15. In 1971, he began his first banjo lessons with Jay Ungar in Garrison, NY. While studying with Ungar he learned the "Frailing Style" of five string banjo playing.[5] Johnson is self taught in the Scruggs and Melodic style of bluegrass banjo playing.[6]


Johnson moved to Crystal River, FL in 1981 to work as a contract Health Physics Technician at a local electric utility. It is there that he met Herb Rice, Larry Rice and Ronnie Rice.[7] The Rice family included him in their musical activities, where Johnson began to apply and adjust his clawhammer banjo techniques to work in bluegrass and duet playing ensembles.

Johnson continued to work with Tony and Larry Rice from 1984 to 1993. It was during this time that Tony Rice taught Johnson critical techniques in performance art, writing, creating music and recording. This led to recording several duets and bluegrass ensemble covers and original compositions on Johnson's first self- produced CD entitled Clawgrass - Mark Johnson with The Rice Brothers and Friends on the Bang label in 1994.

Johnson later performed extensively with mandolinist Emory Lester. The duo released their first album, Acoustic Campaign, in 2002, and over the years have released four more albums together.[5]

In 2012, while working during the week as emergency management director in Florida, Johnson was presented with the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.[8][9] The next year he released an album, 1863, with Emory Lester.[10]

In 2017, Johnson and banjoist Mike Snider performed together at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.[8]



Year Title Label
1994 Clawgrass Mark Johnson with the Rice Brothers and Friends Bang 1
1998 Mark Johnson & Clawgrass - Bridging the Gap Pinecastle
2002 Mark Johnson & Emory Lester -Acoustic Campaign Bangtown Records
2006 Mark Johnson & Emory Lester -Acoustic Rising Mountain Home
2010 Mark Johnson & Emory Lester -Acoustic Vision Bangtown Records
2013 Mark Johnson & Emory Lester -1863 Bangtown Records
2017 Mark Johnson & Emory Lester -Acoustic Milestones (20 Years) Bangtown Records


  1. ^ "Clawgrass returns to Fogartyville with Mark Johnson and Emory Lester". Herald Tribune, Jan 10, 2018, by Vicky Dean
  2. ^ a b SCHLENKER, DAVE (October 4, 2007). "Dunnellon banjo player guards Levy, makes sweet music". Ocala Star Banner.
  3. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (September 20, 2012). "Steve Martin Awards Third Annual Bluegrass Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  4. ^ "Hometown banjo player Mark Johnson keeps his day job". Gainesville Sun, Sep 16, 2006. By Dave Schlenker
  5. ^ a b "The banjo to beat : Mark Johnson is the unassailable King of Clawgrass". Connect Savannah, November 29, 2011 By Bill DeYoung
  6. ^ Levy, Chuck (March 2013). "Interview with Mark Johnson". Banjo Newsletter.
  7. ^ SCHLENKER, DAVE (October 6, 2007). "Dunnellon banjo player just happy to be nominated". Gainesville Sun.
  8. ^ a b "Clawgrass goes to the Opry". Bluegrass Today, March 3, 2017 by John Lawless
  9. ^ "Dunnellon banjo player to play on Letterman with Steve Martin". Tampa Bay Times, Sep. 24, 2012
  10. ^ "1863 from Mark Johnson & Emory Lester". Bluegrass Today, September 5, 2013 by John Lawless
  11. ^ "Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass".
  12. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (September 20, 2012). "Steve Martin Awards Third Annual Bluegrass Prize". The New York Times.

External links[edit]