"More than one music writer around town have referred to Johnston as one of Boston’s best kept secrets of the local music scene..."
–Radio Boston’s Anthony Brooks
David Johnston is a songwriter, bandleader, and street musician based in Cambridge, MA. As veteran Boston Globe reviewer Steve Morse has noted, Johnston's long-running residency (2003-2007) at Union Square's former Tir Na Nog—the current Bull McCabe’s (where Johnston also played from 2008-2012)—would draw “the best local musicians to play his gigs… luring such Boston all-stars as [Duke] Levine and bassist Marty Ballou (who are both in [J. Geils' frontman Peter] Wolf’s touring band), guitarists Chris Rival… Tim Gearan, Steve Sadler, and Steve Mayone, drummer John Sands (who tours with Aimee Mann) and bassist Richard Gates, who has played with Suzanne Vega.” In Morse’s words, these heavy hitters “mesh with Johnston’s loose but highly unique mix of swampy delta blues, subtle jazz, Dylan-steeped folk, and far-out psychedelia.”
Produced by Chris Rival and recorded live at Rival's Middleville Studios, Johnston’s second and most recent album, Carnival of the Soul, features drummer John Sands and bassist Marty Ballou. This all-acoustic trio recording includes 14 songs, most of them first takes or even warm-up takes. Due to the minimal amount of rehearsal and the high level of empathetic musicianship brought by Sands and Ballou, there is a freshness and a spontaneity that is often lost when things are overworked and polished. Rival has brilliantly captured it all—the beautiful sounds of a resophonic guitar, upright bass, and vintage drum set. Johnston remains extremely proud of this record and grateful to his brothers John, Marty, and Chris for making it with him.
A very special thanks goes out to the great Peter Wolf, whose brilliant Midnight Souvenirs—released in 2010—included Johnston's "I Don't Wanna Know." This song went on to become the second single from that album, and was performed on the David Letterman Show in June of 2010. Original Rolling Stones manager and SiriusXM DJ, Andrew Loog Oldham, ranked the song at #3 for that year. Midnight Souvenirs became Wolf's highest-ranking Billboard 200 chart release since his 1984 solo debut Lights Out. Johnston also had the opportunity to play on the record—the first verse of the track "Thick as Thieves" is a cell phone recording Wolf made of the two playing together in Harvard Square's Winthrop Park (where Johnston can often be found busking for much of the year).
A year after the release of Midnight Souvenirs, international jazz/world music collective Club d'Elf‘s epic Electric Moroccoland/So Below double CD appeared. Johnston sings and plays guitar on two tracks on the So Below disc: "Wish I Was in Heaven" and "Pharaoh." These tracks feature leader Mike Rivard, Duke Levine, Dana Colley, Tommy Benedetti, Mr. Rourke, and John Medeski. One music critic refers to Johnston's contribution as "… the best track ... a mesmerizing seven-minute cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell's 'I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,' featuring vocalist and guitarist David Johnston. Delta blues meets swamp rock in excelsis..."
Johnston also appears in the opening scene of Ben Affleck's 2010 film The Town, playing outside a Harvard Square bank just before it is robbed.