Arlyn and Milburn Johnson were nine and eight respectively when the letter arrived. They had only just begun to learn music, two years’ practice under their belts, when a family friend—astounded by the brothers’ innate talent—took it upon himself to write to Lawrence Welk, imploring the King of Champagne Music to host the young boys on his show.

The return message was brief: “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”

“We’ve been sitting here, waiting for that call,” says Arlyn, more than sixty years later. “I don’t think it’s going to come.” Instead came a higher calling.

Call of the Open Road

With no big break on the horizon, the Johnson Brothers found their own way into the music industry. Arlyn took on drums and guitar. Milburn mastered the keyboard. As the Johnson Brothers Band, they played rock and roll from coast to coast, and cut more than a dozen vinyl recordings.

“It’s a labor of love,” says Arlyn. “You can’t fake it six hours a night, six days a week. Being a musician, playing for other people—there’s nothing like it, but you pay a price.

Can you keep your family, finances, and sense of wellbeing together? The music business can take a toll.”

Answering the Call

In the late 1970s, Arlyn and his wife, Susan, had a born-again experience.

“It changed everything, not just spiritually, but musically too. It didn’t seem right for us anymore to be playing all the time in bars,” Arlyn remembers.
But what other avenues did they have?

In 1977, the Johnson Brothers Band joined St. John’s Lutheran Church in Great Falls and turned their attention on Christian music—not just performing it, but supporting other Christian performers as well.

“A lot of these musicians would come to Montana and play at a church, but the PA system was usually not great,” Arlyn explains. “We took around a system we owned for these types of events. Now it’s a larger part of our
livelihood.”

The Right Call

Today, Johnson Brothers Lights & Sound provides lighting and sound equipment needs to more than 100 shows across Montana each year. When they aren’t setting the stage, they can usually be found on it. Over the years, they’ve opened for celebrities like Tammy Wynette; though they feel more at home playing community events and on the worship team at St. John’s.

“We’ve come under a conviction to give back in that respect,” says Arlyn.

After sixty years of music, the Johnson Brothers hope to leave a lasting message.

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