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Freedy Johnston chooses the slow and steady path to musical success. 

A Dream Come True

Singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston is living his secret dream these days. It's the youthful dream of a boy who cautiously believed his music would eventually take him far beyond his hometown on the Kansas plains. On Friday, Nov. 5, he brings his thoughtful folk-rock songs to Richmond's Alley Katz.

"I wasn't very open about it," Johnston says, searching for words as he recalls the hopes he had in his heart but , as a teen, kept hidden from friends. "I didn't want to admit my dream. I guess I was afraid that would jinx it."

Now that he's achieved his dream, he can finally talk. Johnston, the critically acclaimed songwriter whose latest CD "Blue Days Black Nights" is gathering well-deserved praise, says that from the beginning he wanted to communicate his own thoughts in music. After he got his first mail-order guitar at age 16, he wasn't interested in joining cover bands or jamming with others. "It was just my sort of 'loner' attitude toward the music," he says.

Johnston moved from his hometown of Kinsley, Kan., to Lawrence, Kan., where he juggled restaurant jobs with the occasional gigs. In 1986, at age 26, he headed to the Big Apple. He started sending out demos to small labels and chased his dream "in a sort of quiet way." By day, Johnston worked as an "office guy" to pay the bills while he waited for his big break.

In 1990, Bar None Records released his first project, "The Trouble Tree," which pretty much fell through the cracks in America. But 1992's "Can You Fly" hit big with the national music media, and Johnston left his 9-to-5 office days behind.

Elektra released "This Perfect World" in 1994, and Freedy — a nickname his mom gave him as a child — was voted songwriter of the year by Rolling Stone magazine. Hitting the touring road to hone his cerebral folk-rock craft, Johnston often played with a backup band. But soundmen frequently told him that he couldn't be heard, that he needed to sing louder to carry over the band. "Jesus, they had it backwards," he says, slightly irked.

Now he tours solo or with a second guitar, and he's able to get his music across more effectively. "It's all about the vocal anyway," he says.

Johnston considers himself to be a fiction writer; his songs' characters speak the truth but do not necessarily reflect his life. With "Blue Days Black Nights," Freedy knows he and producer T-Bone Burnett crafted a recording with a serious and somber mood. Each song is a gentle look at quiet but desperate despair, and he's pleased with the result.

As he walks the streets in his East Village neighborhood, Johnston says he still sees "shadows of myself all the time" in the faces of other young dreamers. For Johnston, these dreams came true, and he's proud of the past 10 years even if the music business is a risky game. "It's nothing like my friends think," he says of fame. "[Financially] it's worse than a real job. But I'm happy in it. At least I'll be doing what I
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