Musician returning to stage following a traumatic brain injury

Nov 27, 2023, 7:20 PM | Updated: 7:25 pm

LOGAN — A Logan musician who had a traumatic brain injury and lost the ability and drive to make music is taking the stage again, thanks, in part, to his bandmates.

Four years ago in October,  Josh Johnson was attending a concert in Salt Lake City when he fainted, perhaps, he says because of dehydration. He collapsed and hit his head on concrete. The friend he was with says he actually heard the sound of the impact over the loud rock music.

Paramedics arrived, checked him out and left. But after his friend, a firefighter, noticed his head began swelling, he called the EMTs back.

“I actually died in the ambulance,” Johnson said. “They brought me back.”

At the University of Utah hospital, a medical team removed part of his skull to relieve pressure on his brain.

Johnson then began a long road to recovery from a traumatic brain injury.

Musician Josh Johnson is returning to the stage this week following a traumatic brain injury. (The Sunhouse Healers)

This is where Jarad McDonald and Ryan Boyce enter the story. He met the two in high school — McDonald in auto shop class where they bonded over music.

“We’d just pretend to wire my (car) stereo and listen to Van Halen (instead),” Johnson said.

He met Boyce around the same time.

“He was the best drummer that any ninth grader knew,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Boyce formed a band and McDonald, a friend and fan, came to all the gigs.

“I’d be right up front there and just loved it. And I just thought, ‘Okay, I want to be part of this somehow,’” McDonald said.

After Johnson’s father, a musician, died, he decided to form a new band to play his dad’s music.

“It was really important to me that his songwriting carried on,” Johnson said.

His father’s songs continue to run through his set list. All three friends would eventually share the experience of losing a parent early in life.

By then McDonald had learned to play bass guitar.

The three friends became the Sunhouse Healers.

“It felt like you had like a little tribe of people that you could talk to,” Johnson said. “Music has always brought us together. And like you can’t, you once you share that with people, it’s hard to explain, but you can’t share that. You can’t explain that to other people, what you shared together.”

After high school, they toured the West in an old cargo van christened “Big Red.”

Eventually, day jobs and families came into the picture, but they continued to play music.

Then Johnson had that traumatic brain injury and the music stopped. The friendship, though, didn’t.

“They didn’t give up on me,” Johnson said.

The injury changed Johnson.

“I couldn’t sign my name the same. I couldn’t strum the guitar the same. You know, my confidence, my ability to do everything I defined myself as was kind of just wiped clean,” he said.

Support from friends

His friends encouraged him. They delivered breakfast bagels.

“One of them would text me or call me and be like, ‘Hey, you got this,’” Johnson said.

“Just helping him, you know, rediscover himself a little bit,” McDonald said.

“The old me was in there somewhere,” Johnson said. “They were just patient with me.”

When Johnson was ready, they helped him try to play music again.

“There was a lot of just connecting the brain to his hands again,” Boyce said. “That was definitely hard to watch.”

“Music actually came somewhat natural. All of a sudden, it wasn’t,” Johnson said. “And I decided, I don’t know that this person exists anymore. I think I might be done. If it wasn’t for great, great friends and good family I don’t know if I’d be here.”

“To see how hard he’s worked, and the frustration and the endurance that you know, he’s had to put out there, the patience,” McDonald says has inspired him.

Not all the way back, but close

Johnson says now, four years later, he’s at 90%.

“Amazing,” Boyce said.

They’ll have their first gig since the accident Dec. 2 at The Cache Bar and Grill, located at 119 9S. Main Street in Logan.

They all appreciate time playing with each other that much more.

“You don’t know when the last time you do something is going to be your last time. And that’s hard to not be thinking that in the moment that you’re doing it,” Johnson said.

“It (music)…always keeps bringing us back into each other’s lives. And I don’t know…what life would be like without them,” Johnson said. “They make it work. They make it happen.”

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Musician returning to stage following a traumatic brain injury