'One Arm Guitarist' Kenny Johnson returns to Old Cider Press in Smithsburg
For 50 years, singer, songwriter and evangelist Kenny Johnson has made the best of a bad situation by inspiring those who have met him or watched him perform.
The Martinsburg, W.Va. native who is nationally known as the “One Arm Guitarist” said the question he gets asked the most is “What happened to your hand?”
The talented Johnson will return to The Old Cider Press in Smithsburg on Saturday Nov. 16.
“The second most asked question is ‘How do you play the guitar with only the use of your left hand?’ I learned to play the guitar with just one arm as a result of being a victim of polio at age 6,” Johnson said. “I played bass guitar at first and play guitar now since 1984.”
Johnson also plays harmonica and piano. The battle with polio took away the use of his right hand, leaving him only with his left hand to play guitar.
“God plays the right,” Johnson said.
Johnson started playing professionally in 1969, while at the same time still working secular jobs until he retired in 2010.
In the past, Johnson traveled to 13 states to perform and even played Bean Blossom in Indiana, one of the largest bluegrass festivals in the country. He has been featured in “Martin Guitar Magazine,” and has also won several contests singing and performing.
Johnson’s music has taken him from Branson, Missouri to Nashville to Kentucky. Johnson even traveled with late Grand Ole Opry legend Walter Bailes.
In recent years, Johnson still makes a few stops in Tennessee and Kentucky, but mainly performs closer to home in the Tri-State area and Virginia.
“I have around 50 singing (shows) a year now. Mostly in churches, outdoor sings. Wherever God opens a door, I’m willing to minister. My moto is ‘Have guitar, will travel,’” Johnson said. “Comedy, inspiration and a good time is what I strive to accomplish in my concerts.”
He said he is also blessed to write songs, and his latest CD had 10 original songs plus “Amazing Grace,” which features his two sons, Ken Johnson Jr. and Dave Johnson.
“I have been around awhile. Been a DJ, had my own radio shows, taught guitar and piano. Music is a big part of my life,” Johnson said.
In 2010, he was honored to be put in the West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame.
In addition to his music, Johnson is also an ordained minister and has been pastor at Samples Manor Church of God in Sharpsburg for 23 years.
Johnson also enjoys bowling.
“I bowl both duck pins and ten pins. I have regular engagements each year at homecomings, camp meetings and outdoor Gospel parks. These plus pastoring keeps me very busy,” Johnson said.
Old Cider Press owner Doug Stanley says that Johnson has performed at the venue about four times.
“Always a great, lively audience to perform for,” Johnson said.
Stanley described Johnson as a very faithful man.
“A lot of people like to hear him. He is a good artist and he is an inspiration to everyone. He is a really good, all-around entertainer and everyone enjoys him,” Stanley said.
Doors to the event center open at 5:30 p.m. and music begins at 6 p.m. There is a $4 donation at the door. Stanley said there will be no alcohol at the Christian-based event.
Top photo: Kenny Johnson has enjoyed great success despite being limited to playing guitar with only his left hand. (Submitted photo)