The Social Security Express connects people to music

The Social Security Express connects people with chords of traditional and new country music. Pictured are (from left): guitar player Virgil Aleshire, base player Sylvester Wasner, drummer Larry Sletton and guitar player Bill Johnson Sr.

    With the good ole’ tunes of Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and more as well as new country, the Social Security Express connects people to music — chord by chord.

    “Music is universal,” said guitar player Bill Johnson Sr.

    The band was formed several years ago and was named after the fact that all of its members are on Social Security, Johnson said.

    While most play with the band regularly, some musicians are called to join a performance. Regardless of what instrument they play whether it is the guitar, drums, banjo or something else, they share the love of music and it shows, he said.

    They often perform at different assisted living homes, nursing homes, community gatherings and other events. The response of the audience differs. Some people may have no response at all to the music. Others move their toes, hands and their body to the music.

    Johnson recalls a time they performed in Long Prairie.

    “One lady got out of her wheel chair to dance. It made my day,” he said.

    The band will also perform at the Morrison County Fair in Little Falls, Friday, Aug. 9, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

    Johnson said the best part of performing is being around people. Throughout the years he has made many friends.

    Another favorite is to gather with other musicians and just jam. Not only is it fun, but it also helps him to play with others, he said. After all, he doesn’t read musical notes, but plays by ear.

    Johnson was 9 when he started playing guitar. It all started with a small guitar his uncle Andy Johnson and aunt Leona Johnson gifted him one Christmas.

    “They had a girl who was working for them, doing house work. Her boyfriend played guitar, so he would come over and showed me how to play chords,” he said.

    As his guitar instructor played at various locations, Johnson tagged along and played the chords with him.

    “I was about 10 or 12 when I did that and continued doing that through high school,” he said.

    But after he graduated from high school, Johnson said he quit playing for quite some time.

    At first, Johnson started working in the Twin Cities after high school, but eventually moved to Randall. There he and his wife, Patricia, built a house and all was well. He even had his own business — in towing and auto repair.

    Johnson said it wasn’t until after a fire destroyed his business in 1977, that he returned to playing.

    “We didn’t have an income, so I went to playing. We had another couple and we got together with them and did a four-piece band,” he said.

    After about five or six years, he started another band, which his sons, Bill Jr. and Patrick joined. The music only stopped for a while when Bill Jr. went into the service, he said.

    Reminiscing, Johnson said he is thankful for that first guitar he received.

    Besides playing other artists’ music, Johnson has written some songs of his own. One is about the Darling Church. It is where his mom, Mildred Olson, who died from tuberculosis when he was about six months old, is buried.

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