Troy ‘Tracker’ Johnson: Day-To-Day With Morgan Wallen, Country’s Most ‘Dangerous’ Man
Growing up in south Texas, Troy Johnson loved music. A move to Austin enrolling in Austin Community College (“All Can Come”) to study Elementary Education, wouldn’t seem to be the obvious on-ramp to a music business career. But while running a daycare center, the guy who now runs point for Morgan Wallen would head to Pete’s Piano Bar every Tuesday night to sell merch for his friend Cory Morrow.
“I loved the energy of selling merch, talking to the people, being part of it,” remembers Johnson. “I was that kid who just wanted to help: filling ice chests and getting ‘em on the bus, guitar tech, monitor guy.”
It wasn’t long until he started tour managing “just about every act that’s got anything to do with the Texas music scene.” His final stop before hitting the major label circuit was the Eli Young Band. One night in Fayetteville, Ark., hitting the end of that line, he called Miranda Lambert’s then-tour manager Jordan Powell, who’d been telling him, “If you really want to get serious and do this, you have to move to Nashville.”
Powell sent his friend a plane ticket and set up interviews with Lady A(ntebellum), Gypsi and Chris Young. “Young was the only one who really had something going on, so I went to work for him. We’re still good friends today.”
Along the way, the well-liked Johnson got swept up in the fast-growing world of good-timing country duo Florida Georgia Line. “The year I went to work for FGL, I was on the road 260+ days, and I started the week after I got married. We went everywhere, did everything and never slowed down.”
Johnson’s work ethic impressed Seth England, who brought the quick-thinking, quick-connecting “Tracker” off the road and into the office to day-to-day manage Chris Lane and MacKenzie Porter. But he’d seen this kid – first of three – while out with FGL, and told England, “If there’s ever a way to work with him…”
Wallen was managed by someone else. But when a change was made, Big Loud came on board and Johnson moved over to the 23-year old who was hungry for success. Laughing at how fate delivers, Johnson offers, “I’m extremely passionate about Morgan and Hardy, too. They’re completely original people, and they know who they are.
“From the first time I saw him onstage, he had this swagger. When he walks out from sidestage, he carries himself. He’s taking a drink and raising some hell, then he’ll gear down into one of the more acoustic, romantic songs – and just take out the whole front of the place.”
Believing the tour manager transition to day-to-day manager uniquely positions someone to understand the in-your-face demands of the road, those things that can’t be dodged because you’re on-site together against the necessary realities of what various teams – from promotion to social media, interviews, charity outreach and just the business of doing business – need, “Tracker” more than earns his nickname. To wit, he adopted a straight truth policy early on.
“With Morgan, he never wants to be bullshitted,” Johnson begins. “He’s a blunt person, and I’m not a ‘Yes man,’ so we’re a good fit. We had that conversation early, where I told him, ‘I’m not gonna tell you what you want to hear all the time,’ and he said, ‘That’s what I want.’
“Sometimes he’ll say, ‘Bro, I’m not doing it today…’ But he works as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen. Lay it out, let him know, watch him go.”
That face-forward ethic and commitment to truth-telling extends beyond the career tasks. When the “SNL” cancellation blew up, Wallen went straight into the fall-out.
“There’s never been an artist whose had the moments, good or bad, where they’ve been as honest and owned up to them,” Johnson believes. “What happened with ‘Saturday Night Live’ brought him to a different group of people, and they respected his being honest about what happened, taking responsibility. Then he goes out there with the songs, and backs it up. Even passive fans know this stuff happens to people, so they relate to Morgan even more.”
And going back to Johnson’s roots, how ‘bout that merch?
Laughing, he admits they do some pretty big numbers. “When ‘7 Summers’ was starting to hit, we put a T-shirt that was only just a design up… We had over 3,000 orders in two days. It was crazy, but it also told us this song was going to be huge.
“Morgan’s fans want that piece of him. T-shirt, hoodie, sticker, cap: it’s the basics, but they buy this stuff up like crazy, and that says everything.”
Living Dangerously: Morgan Wallen – Shattering All Records, Raring For The Road