Defying the odds -- that's what the story of the Ray Johnston Band has long been about.
The namesake of the Texas-based band has enjoyed a multi-faceted career so far -- playing some of the more prestigious stages in the Lone Star State as well as donning a basketball jersey for the Dallas Mavericks. Making the team as the result of a free-agent workout, Johnston didn't get to enjoy being on the team for long. Just three months into his time as a Maverick, he was diagnosed with leukemia.
"It was over so much of my body that they had to induce me into a coma that lasted two and a half months," Johnston recalled to Billboard. "It was crushing. I woke up and had lost 75 pounds, had seven toes amputated, and I saw the challenge that was going to be ahead of me."
He has nothing but praise for the way the Mavericks organization looked after him following his surgery -- all the way up to the team's owner. "There wasn't a day that the team doctor or Mark Cuban or any of the team wasn't checking on me. I was in the hospital for four and a half months. There's a reason their employees have such long tenures there. They are great people over there, and I'll call them friends the rest of my life."
Johnston and his band just released No Bad Days, a disc he admits signifies a shift in his approach to songwriting. "Before I started writing for the album, I discovered that I was more comfortable doing the co-writing thing. I co-wrote nine of the 11 songs on the album. I wanted to do songs that are authentic to how our live show is, and how I am as a person and a singer. I felt that 'No Bad Days' is one of the best songs on the album from a songwriting standpoint, and it's also authentic to my backstory. So far, everyone who has reviewed the album has had nothing but nice things to say. I'm sure that I'll get one that isn't down the road, but so far, so good."
Johnston said that many of the songs have a deeper meaning than simply what the title implies, such as "More Crown Than Coke," of which he says, "There is a line about me liking a little more whiskey in my Crown [Royal] and Coke, but there's more lines about life being awesome instead of average. One of my favorite things about the song from a non-lyrical standpoint is how we pulled from Motown and a New Orleans influence with the backbeat. It also reminds me of KC & the Sunshine Band or the Commodores. You can two-step to it, but you can bob your head too," he said with a smile.
Music and sports have always been passions for the Alabama native, who played basketball in high school and worked his way onto one of the premier teams in the Southeastern Conference. "I was an All-State player and always wanted to play in the SEC. But I didn't get any offers. So I walked on at the University of Alabama and was on the basketball team there from 1997-2000. When I graduated from college with a marketing degree, my plan was to try out for the NBA, and if I didn't make it there, I hoped I could maybe catch on overseas. I tried out for both and didn't make it. My dad told me, 'You got your degree for a reason. Use it.' So I moved to Dallas and worked as a mortgage banker for a couple of years. I still played basketball in any of the outlets I could because I loved the game. I just kept playing. I actually played in some leagues with some of the Cowboys, like Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders."
Johnston -- who has endured four relapses of leukemia over the years (but has been in remission for four years) -- loves rising to the challenge of life, whether on the court or on the stage. He said it's what sets people apart. "I guess I have it embedded in me that if there's enough of a crack there, work ethic can get you a long way in life. From a realistic standpoint, I think the music business has the highest amount of talent and the lowest amount of demand. How many people do you know who have plenty of ability but have troubles finding their own gig on Broadway? I get that, but I also know there are a lot of ways to outwork people and carve out your respective niche. That's what I'm trying to do -- and having a fun time doing it."