By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
“American Idol” winner Caleb Johnson was known for his powerful renditions of “Dream On,” “Never Tear Us Apart” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” while he was on the show.
Now he’s juggling three projects — all of which require the same vocal prowess. One is “Meat Loaf presents BAT featuring the Neverland Express and Caleb Johnson,” a show that covers Meat Loaf’s legacy and is produced by the singer and his musical director, Paul Crook. Johnson says he adds his own flavor to songs like “Bat Out of Hell,” “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “I Would Do Anything for Love,” but stays true to Meat Loaf’s delivery.
“This show has been in the works for two years,” Johnson says. “The hard work is coming to fruition—all the hard work behind the scenes by Meat Loaf and his musical director.
“It’s an over-the-top, very theatrical, bombastic rock ‘n’ roll show. It’s very much an experience. We do Meat Loaf’s timeless album in its entirety and the show is very much in the vein of a rock opera.”
The Neverland Express pulls into the Musical Instrument Museum Friday, August 23, and Saturday, August 24.
Johnson landed the job after Crook called him. Meat Loaf was going on hiatus because of health issues, but he wanted to keep the show going forward. Crook told Johnson he needed a singer to “fill those big shoes.”
“I was his first call on his list,” Johnson recalls. “He asked if I would want to do a world tour and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ That was close to two years ago. It came out of the blue. I am very, very excited and honored to be a part of it.”
Johnson considers Meat Loaf one of the world’s top rock singers and the show has proven to be challenging. The Neverland Express has hit the stage about 15 times, he says.
“His stuff is not easy to sing at all in the slightest,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a massive Meat Loaf fan. I love ‘Bat Out of Hell’ and ‘Bat Out of Hell II.’ I’m just a real diehard fan of his.
“This show has been an honor and it’s been a full-circle moment for me. I was listening to ‘Bat Out of Hell’ in middle school.”
Johnson spends his holidays with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He says the show is similar to The Neverland Express.
“TSO is a very rock opera kind of theatrical experience,” he says. “It’s like Meat Loaf meets ‘Jingle Bell Rocks.’ They complement each other very well on my end and they’re a lot of fun. These shows are legacy and legendary sows that have impacted and touched a lot of people.
“It all goes hand in hand. The Meat Loaf and TSO shows have the same amount of integrity, passion and conviction I would do with my own music. They push me and help me become a better singer.”
Johnson is also pursuing a solo career. In June, he released his second album, “Born from Southern Ground,” which he calls “Bob Seger meets the Black Crowes.” Recorded with his new band Caleb Johnson & The Ramblin’ Saints, the album showcases his southern roots, which he blends with gospel, blues and rock.
The single “Solid Gold” was co-written by Rival Sons lead singer Jay Buchanan and Blair Daly, who co-wrote most of the songs on “Born from Southern Ground” with Johnson.
“I hold the highest admiration and respect for Blair and Jay as musicians and people,” Johnson explains.
“I’ve been fortunate to have written some of the best songs of my career with Blair and have been a massive fan of Jay’s voice and his band Rival Sons since 2010. I am honored that they would let me record ‘Solid Gold.’ The meaning of the song resonates deeply with me, because it is an anthem of pursuing your dreams and never giving up. I feel a lot of people can relate to that message on any given level of life. And singing ‘Solid Gold’ is a full circle moment for me, because I went from singing a Rival Sons song on ‘American Idol’ to having a song on my album written by the singer of that band.”
Between The Neverland Express, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and The Ramblin’ Saints, Johnson keeps busy. Each of his three projects is challenging, though, because of the energy and vocal acrobatics that go into them, he says.
“Both have big songs,” he says. “They’re 10 minutes long. The shortest song is 5 to 6 minutes. They’re all very difficult in their own right. They all have their own individual challenges and hurdles.”
What: Meat Loaf Presents BAT featuring the Neverland Express and Caleb Johnson
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 23, and Saturday, August 24
Where: Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix
Cost: $48.50 to $73.50
Info: 480-478-6000, mim.org