Last year, SNL finally found their Donald Trump. (No offense, Alec Baldwin.) James Austin Johnson came to fame in part because he does arguably the most spot-on impersonation of the world’s most famous failed blogger. But he has more than one weapon in his arsenal. On a recent Tonight Show appearance, Johnson busted out his Trump and his Biden. But he also proved he’s as good doing them as he is doing maybe folk music’s most distinctive voice.
Host Jimmy Fallon recalled meeting Johnson for the first time, where Johnson teased that he was also very good at Bob Dylan. And indeed he is. Just as Dylan’s sound has changed over the decades, so has his voice. Johnson chose only four eras to impersonate, and because it’s the holidays, he did him doing “Jingle Bells,” because who wouldn’t want to hear Robert Zimmerman speak-singing or crooning Christmas carols.
Johnson started with the most famous era of Dylan: his nasal-voiced Greenwich village period. Then he moved onto the brief time where he tried to be a straight-up singer: the “Lay Lady Lay”/Nashville Skyline era. From there he moved onto the mid-‘70s “Rolling Thunder” tour — Johnson’s “favorite Dylan,” when he’s “unintelligible” and “just screaming.” He concludes with the late ‘90s, the time of Time out of Mind and his Victoria’s Secret commercial, when, Johnson says, he’s “singing like a Disney vulture” or “like he crawled out of a French crypt.”
It’s amazing stuff, proof that Johnson’s no one-trick pony. You can watch his Tonight Show appearance in the video above; the Dylan business begins around the 5:53 mark. And why not?
You can watch one of his earliest triumphs — “fireworks illegal in Pasadena” — below.