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Ray Johnston trades hoops for (guitar) hooks

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011

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A leukemia diagnosis ended Ray Johnston’s NBA career with the Dallas Mavericks after a “whopping” three months in the summer of 2005.

But since then, and especially since becoming cancer-free, the Alabama native has focused on his music — with a purpose.

“I proactively share my story from both a faith angle and a research angle,” says Johnston, 32, whose debut album, 2009’s “Sweet Tooth,” hails from the same kind of loose-limbed, jammy school as the Dave Matthews Band and the Zac Brown Band. His tale is also the subject of a 10-part HDNet series, while his band plays regular benefits for the Dallas-based nonprofit Ryan Gibson Foundation for TRGF.

“I feel like even from the small amount of impact my band and our songs have had, the Lord’s looking down on me and saying, ‘See, it’s not so hard. Every now and then, just give me a little love. It all happens pretty naturally.’ ”

Johnston, who took up guitar after his father wouldn’t allow him to take his drums to the University of Alabama, is working on his band’s second album, co-writing with members of the Fray and Thousand Foot Krutch and having discussions about collaborating with pals Jason Mraz and Michael Franti.

“I don’t yearn to sit down with a notebook and write,” Johnston confesses. “The first song I wrote was in January of ’05, and then I didn’t write another one till probably a year later. I’ve got to force myself to do it.

“When you meet someone like Jason Mraz, you learn the reason he is where he is has a lot to do with his passion for his writing. I don’t have that right now; I would rather pick up my guitar and find a riff and keep my fingers crossed that words will come to me. But I’m pushing myself to get better at it.”

The Ray Johnston Band performs with Cowboy Mouth on Friday, Feb. 18, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 248-544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com.

Web Site: www.themagicbag.com

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