As a member of the Austin bands Mariani and the Electromagnets, Johnson became a word-of-mouth phenom in the '70s, touted loudly by the likes of Johnny Winter and Steely Dan's Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. His funky contract kept a stranglehold on his recording-and-performing options until its expiration in 1984. Stints on Austin City Limits brought the attention of the artist then known as Prince and a deal with Reprise. His 1986 debut Tones garnered his first Grammy nomination, but poor promotion hurt sales. He resurfaced in 1990 with what's regarded as his signature work, the Grammy-winning Ah Via Musicom. During the following decade, Johnson's work has embraced pop, jazz, and blues-rock, the latter sometimes through side gigs with old Electromagnets mates performing as Alien Love Child.