b. Detroit, Michigan, USA. Johnston was raised in Richmond, Virginia, taking up the guitar as a young child after seeing the Beatles on television. His musical interests quickly spread, encompassing Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. He began playing professionally when he was 14, by which time he was already leaning strongly towards jazz. By the time he had completed his education at the University of Miami he had decided upon a career in jazz and soon became known as a highly proficient, blues-influenced performer. In 1982 he settled in New York where he found work with Warne Marsh. He has also played with musicians such as Ira Sullivan, Houston Person and Lou Donaldson and in the late 90s with Johnny Griffin.
In the spectrum of bop guitarists, Johnston is firmly in the Wes Montgomery line of influence and there are also hints in his playing that he has heard and approves of Kenny Burrell. There is, however, a strong personal flavour to his music whether he is playing in a low-down funky mode or in a fleet and intellectually inventive manner. Johnston’s solos display a fast-thinking mind backed up by a formidable technique which allows him to fully realize his conceptions. In the mid-90s Johnston made some critically acclaimed albums for Muse Records and their successor, HighNote Records, sometimes using organist Joey DeFrancesco, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, and veteran drummer Mickey Roker. These sets show an intriguing blending of the leader’s melodic guitar with a thrusting organ sound that evokes without imitating the organ-led combos popular several decades before. In addition to performing, Johnston also teaches at the Hartt College of Music, West Hartford, Connecticut.