I first heard Freedy Johnston on NPR’s World Cafe where his best known album, Can You Fly? was reviewed. I learned just recently that Johnston is from Kinsley, Kansas. The small Edwards County town is slightly closer to Dodge City than Hutchinson on Kansas Highway 50.
According to All Music Guide: “[Johnston is] a gifted songwriter whose lyrics paint sometimes witty, often poignant, portraits of characters often unaware of how their lives have gone wrong, Freedy Johnston seemingly appeared out of nowhere in the early ’90s and quickly established himself as one of the most acclaimed new singer/songwriters of the day. Johnston was born in 1961 in Kinsley, KS, a small town with the odd distinction of being equidistant between New York City and San Francisco. Growing up, Johnston developed a strong interest in music, but living in a city without a music store or a record shop, doing something about it took some effort. When he was 16, Johnston bought his first guitar by mail order, and a year later, a friend drove him 35 miles to the nearest record store so he could buy an album he’d read about: My Aim Is True by Elvis Costello.”
Johnston headed to Lawrence and K.U. after graduating from high school. He dropped out of college after attending less than one year. He performed in Lawrence and was a huge fan of the local favorite new wave group, The Embarrassment. Johnston set out for New York City in 1985. After years of paying his dues, he produced his first album for an independent label Bar/None. He sold off farm land that had been in the Johnston family for generations, to help produce his second album Can You Fly? The gamble paid off and the album was named among the best of the year by the New York Times, the Village Voice, and Billboard.
Johnston managed to escape the agorophobia-producing vast open spaces of western Kansas. With determination and hard work even citizens from Kinsley, Kansas can ascend to the world stage.