Al "Carnival Time" Johnson's new project

Al "Carnival Time" Johnson
Al "Carnival Time" Johnson

New Orleans musician Al Johnson is known to his many fans for his popular song "Carnival Time." It's the uplifting tune he recorded in 1960 that many now consider the soundtrack of the Mardi Gras season. Johnson says it remains his favorite song to sing, many decades later.

"People do enjoy it and they know the words and they sing along with me and have fun. It's amazing," said Johnson.

Johnson says he was only a teenager when he recorded the song.  At that time, he says there already were songs with Mardi Gras in the lyrics. But he wanted to write a tune that featured and repeated the word "Carnival."

He recalls telling the musicians during the recording session exactly how it should start. But he says initially they didn't like the song's intro. "They gave me a hard time.  They said my timing was bad, " said Johnson.

Of course, history proved his timing was dead-on, given the success of the song and how it resonated with so many people.

As for the legal fight to get financial compensation for his popular Carnival song, he is finally getting royalties for it, but it won't make him rich.

The many awards in his home are a testament to the love and respect his fans and fellow musicians have for the man nicknamed "Carnival Time".

Recently he was featured in the HBO series Treme.  Even Hollywood's "Rachel Getting Married" showcased one of his tunes.  There's also the recognition for his work from former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. His most recent accolade came from Offbeat magazine's Best of the Beat Awards -- he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

His career is far from over. Johnson is now working on a new CD that he hopes will be out in March. He says the Super Bowl inspired him to write a Super Bowl song that uses the same melody of the tune "Carnival Time," but with lyrics evoking the big game at the Dome. His hope is that it will be used in the future for many NFL festivities. He says his CD will also feature newer versions of some of his classic tunes.

"Well, I hope that people will appreciate it like they did "Carnival Time" and everybody enjoy it," said Johnson.

The red beans and rice parade on Lundi Gras is his next big Carnival event, where he will serve as grand marshal.  It's one among many blessings that Johnson says he's grateful for these days.

"Most of the time I'm just thankful to wake up. Lots of good things happening," said Johnson.

Indeed, good things for an iconic Mardi Gras figure who is known for his kind-hearted nature, and the Carnival song that truly exemplifies the festive season.