Beloved Dallas musician Trey Johnson, who was a founding member of rock band Sorta, died on January 31; he was 53.
Born Lewis Harlan Johnson III, Trey was a Dallas native, graduate of Greenhill School and the University of North Texas, and co-founder of State Fair Records, a Dallas music label that released albums by acclaimed artists such as Joshua Ray Walker, Kristy Kruger, and Eleven Hundred Springs.
Sorta was an Americana rock band that released four full-length records and garnered national attention when their songs were picked up for several television series. In 2007, the band parted ways after the untimely death of band member Carter Albrecht.
But Johnson continued to sing and record, including two solo albums Mount Pelée and Where The East Ends on Idol Records, and most recently an EP released on Christmas Day 2021 on State Fair Records called Home Again, Home Again, under the name Lewis III.
He worked as a commercial production director for 97.1 The EAGLE, and also taught music for several years at local music school Zounds Sounds.
In 2019, he and his wife Jen opened YAM Dallas, a space for yoga and the arts.
According to a family friend, Johnson had experienced heart problems within the past year that included a blocked artery.
Johnson was universally beloved, and the Dallas creative community came out in force to mark his passing with tributes on Facebook.
Radio industry veteran Billy MacLeod called him "North Texas' own confidante and friend to so very many," stating that "his music kept coming, but it was really his quiet conversations and the encouragement that he gave to others that will endure."
Music photographer Jessica Waffles called him "a pillar in the community, a kind supportive soul, and a real happy guy. ... So many people have been able to make it so far with your help. Thank you for everything you did. What a rockstar."
Musician Marcus Striplin recalled a point where he was feeling down and called Johnson. "Trey took my call on a late spring day and just listened to me. At the time I didn’t realize how much I needed for someone to listen to me and either say 'you're crazy and take this event as a sign to hang it up' or something else. Trey told me the something else. He encouraged me to focus and to not stray from it. He was a believer in my art and he was such a kind and gentle human."
Singer Becky Middleton said that "working in the studio with someone of his caliber and musicianship is always an honor. But to call him friend was the gift. He was the kindest person and leaves a beautiful legacy with his family and the Dallas music scene."
Musician and bar owner Reid Robinson described Johnson as a "friend, father, and total class act," calling him "one of the kindest, talented, and most earnest people around. Loved his big hearty laugh, and positive outlook no matter the circumstances. He reminded me of a gentle lion, caring and in control."
Musician and Eleven Hundred Springs founder Matt Hillyer said that Johnson was "one of those people who you just immediately felt like a kindred spirit with. He championed us and countless others. He always made us feel like the most talented important people in the room. In fact, his own talent as a musician was world class. I always breathed easier knowing he was on our side. Aside from business, he was fun to hang out with and talk to. The loss to the North Texas music world can’t be overstated on this one. This is really heartbreaking."
Courtney Wright Wells, operations manager for State Fair Records, said, "I never imagined having a partner like Trey, or working with someone that has such a genuine heart for musicians (and all artists), the industry, and selflessly, positively impacting this scene."
Musician Mike Daane recalled meeting Trey when they were students at North Texas State University. "Thus began a long friendship where we would cross paths on a regular basis in and around the Dallas music scene. Trey always had something cooking musically and formed many bands, exploring and learning, forging his own unique style in the process. It was a treat when our bands would share a bill and I could see what he was up to. Always engaged and in the moment, always a positive thing to say, always a big hello and a hug, always a 'I love you Mike Daane' when we parted. I love you too, Trey. You are going to be sorely missed by everyone."
Radio personality Josh Venable said that "today we lost one of the nicest imaginable. Trey Johnson was not just incredibly talented. Everyone who heard him play knew that. He was also genuine and sincere and gracious."
Vandoliers singer-guitarist Joshua Fleming said that Johnson "changed my life, gave me the chance to pursue my dream and believed in me. I wasn’t the only person or only band. He put in so work, so much faith in to all of us. I’m going to miss my friend so much. We all owe you so much. Thank you for giving us a home, thank you for taking care of us."
He's survived by his mother Betty Dicken, his wife Jen, his daughter Dylan and son Will, his sister Ginna, and his brothers James and Scott.
UPDATE 2-3-2022: Services will be held on Sunday, February 6 at 2 pm at Sparkman Hillcrest, 7405 W. Northwest Hwy. The in-person service is reserved for family and friends. For all others who wish to pay their respects, join the service via livestream at vimeo.com/672931736.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Trey Johnson Scholarship Endowment at the UNT College of Music, so that Trey's legacy may live on through generations of music students in perpetuity. You may make a gift to this fund in two ways:
- Online. Visit one.unt.edu/giving/college-of-music. Choose "other" from the "Area of Support" drop-down menu. Type "Trey Johnson Endowment" in the "other" box.
- Check. Make a check out to "University of North Texas" with "Trey Johnson Endowment: in the memo line, and send to: University of North Texas; University Advancement, Gift Administration at 1155 Union Circle #311250 Denton, TX 76203