'Bluer Than Blue' Singer Michael Johnson Dies at 72

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Michael Johnson posing for a portrait on July 12, 1990 in New York City.

Singer-songwriter Michael Johnson passed away Tuesday (July 25) after a long illness, according to his Website, www.MJBlue.com. He was 72 years old.

Johnson enjoyed a successful string of pop and country hits in the 1970s and 1980s, with his most notable numbers being “Bluer Than Blue,” “Give Me Wings,” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder.”

Johnson was born on Aug. 8, 1944 in Alamosa, Colorado. His love of music led him to first learn to play the guitar during his teenage years. After graduation from high school, Johnson attended Colorado State University, but winning a talent contest pushed him toward a career in music. His prize was a recording contract with Epic, which led to the release of his single “Hills” - which failed to chart.

After some time spent perfecting his instrumental skills in Barcelona, Spain, Johnson returned to America in 1966, joining a group called New Society with Randy Sparks. The next year would see him joining the line-up of The Chad Mitchell Trio, which also included a pre-stardom John Denver. The two became friends and collaborators in the late 1960s, as Johnson and the singer would form the trio Denver, Boise and Johnson. However, a turn to the stage led him away from music for a brief period as he performed in an off-Broadway production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris.

In 1971, Johnson returned to music, signing with Atco Records. His first album for the label, There Is A Breeze, was released two years later. He then recorded a pair of albums for indie label Sanskrit before hitting the big time in 1978 with the ballad “Bluer Than Blue.” The song would peak at No. 12 on the Hot 100, and top the Adult Contemporary chart. He also hit the Top-40 with the follow-up “Almost Like Being In Love,” and 1979’s “This Night Won’t Last Forever.” He recorded five albums for EMI before signing with RCA in Nashville in 1985, giving country music a try.

The folk-flavored singer was an immediate hit. His first single was a collaboration with labelmate Sylvia on “I Know You By Heart,” which peaked at No. 9 in the winter of 1985-86. His star was definitely on the rise. He topped the chart with both “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder” in 1987, with the latter becoming the first major hit for tunesmith Hugh Prestwood.

Johnson continued to release chart singles for the label through 1989. Later recordings would come on a variety of smaller labels, such as Atlantic, Vanguard, and Intersound. His name returned to the scene in 1995 when 4 Runner recorded “Cain’s Blood,’ a song that he wrote with Jack Sandrud. The harmony-laden track made it to No. 26. His final album was 2012’s Moonlit Deja Vu, released on Redhouse Records.

Funeral arrangements are pending.