For generations, women have come to admire a man in uniform. In the 1980s, ZZ Top touted, the “Sharp Dressed Man.” A young man outfitted in a tuxedo stands head and shoulders above the rest. However, if you add a Stetson hat, and a violin, you get, well, Tim Johnson.
Johnson, who earned a master’s degree from Fresno State in 2004, is more at home in blue jeans and a baseball cap rather than coat and tails. However, no matter what he is wearing, he is always surrounded by music.
Born and raised in Fresno, Johnson resides in the foothill community of Oakhurst. He is currently spreading his musical knowledge and passion for the arts through his new venture, the Oakhurst Community String Orchestra.
In 2010, Johnson founded the Oakhurst Community String Orchestra, which has survived on private money.
“The word ‘community’ is the key for the survival of the arts in the outlying suburbs,” Johnson said. “The local interest has been phenomenal, with churches holding fundraisers, parishioners holding rummage sales and local folks manning the barbecues at private residences, all collectively raising money for our expenses, to continue supporting the arts.”
Johnson compares the financial struggles of the orchestra to the early days of classical music when subsidies from the wealthy kept the geniuses of the musical world afloat.
“The royal families of Europe supported artists like Mozart and Haydn, and without them there would be no symphonic masterpieces that we still play today,” Johnson said. “The same goes for the Oakhurst Community String Orchestra.”
The Oakhurst Community String Orchestra consists of 40 players, ranging in age from 9 to 75 years old. The enthusiasm is equal across the board, and the younger ones give Johnson the most hope for today’s generation of players.
“These are the fortunate kids that had parents like mine,” Johnson said. “They were willing to turn off the television, limit the video games and constant internet browsing.”
As a teen, Johnson said he was fortunate his parents went out of their way to bring music into the home that did not fit the mold of AM/FM radio back in the ‘70s.
“I fell in love with Django Reinhardt, who was the originator of the jazz guitar, as well as Wes Montgomery,” Johnson said. “They paved the way for guys like George Benson and Rich Severson.”
This discovery led to Johnson mastering a number of instruments over the years, including the guitar, fiddle, mandolin and bass.
“I’m an eclectic player, man. I play jazz, blues, folk, gospel and western,” Johnson said. “My favorite, however, is Stephane Grapelli, the king of jazz violinists,” Johnson said.
Johnson was schooled early on in orchestra. At a young age, he picked up a guitar and then a violin – and alternated playing them. The violin satisfied his classical studies, and, at night, the guitar did the same for his curiosity. Johnson revealed his true passion, playing the violin, and, conducting and performing in a string orchestra.
Johnson is no stranger to orchestras. From 1974-76, he was the concertmaster for the Fresno Junior Philharmonic In 1977, he was hired as a violinist for the Fresno Philharmonic. In 2006, he founded the Merced Junior College Orchestra, which existed from 2006-2009 until it ran out of funding.
“It’s just a crying shame to see these kids have to give up the dream, because of the money running out,” Johnson said.
Johnson is pursuing a doctorate in music education from Boston University. He has earned a bachelor’s in business management, specifically music artists. Johnson has played at churches, schools and rodeos. He also has performed at barn dances and private parties.
His original music has been released on CD. Recently “Tim Johnson, American Fiddler,” released in 2007, was nominated for the Western Music Association’s Solo Album of the Year. He performed with the Sons of the San Joaquin band from 2000 to 2007, ending with a well-received performance at Carnegie Hall.
His current western band, The Sierra Riders, will release its second CD in December, a follows up to its “Live” effort back in 2009. Johnson claims his most prized trophy is The Western Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year Award in 2007.
“That’s some serious pickin,” Johnson said.
The fall concert season is filling up fast. Johnson hosts the Cowboy Gospel Concerts on Sundays from 4-6:30 p.m. at the Lutheran Church in Oakhurst. On Sunday, his small class of 20 private students performed various pieces from the classical masters.
“They will get to have a little fun for the finale,” Johnson said. “My pickers will join them for an old fashioned fiddle hoe-down.”
The Sierra Riders Band will perform at a benefit for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Search & Rescue Team in December. Johnson also will perform with his colleague, Rich Severson, at the Yosemite Jazz Festival, and the historic Sierra Sky Ranch in Oakhurst on Oct. 11.
Johnson also will team up with his old guitar buddy, Jimmy Collier, for the Local Legends tour. It’s a down-home troubadour-style campfire fest on Friday and Saturday nights at the Tenaya Lodge near Yosemite.
Johnson said, “There’s really some excellent entertainment up here in the foothills,” said Johnson. “We just need to get the word out to all of Fresno and beyond.”