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Musician Greg Johnson’s Kiwi comeback: ‘I’m living like a tourist!’

The Save Yourself singer is taking his own advice – Don’t Wait Another Day

When Greg Johnson takes his daughter boogie boarding on the Californian coast, the pair paddle in the same sea as his family back home.

It’s common for the singer and 11-year-old Ruby June to stroll from their home to the shores of Santa Monica, where the Pacific Ocean links him to the place he left 22 years ago, but frequently comes back to for regular city and big town tours. On this trip, his 1000 Miles tour coincides with the launch of his 13th studio album, Thunder in Fall.

“Home is always home,” says the 56-year-old. “I love coming back because I have a lot of family and friends here. And I get to see New Zealand like a tourist. I’ve only been here two nights and have already had snapper. I do miss New Zealand seafood.”

You can take Greg out of New Zealand but you can’t take the Kiwi out of Greg. He may be an international star, but he chooses to stay with his 86-year-old dad Ross in Mt Roskill and he hopes there will be enough downtime on this trip for them to watch a bit of the New Zealand vs Australia cricket.

“Even my wife Kelli notices my Kiwi accent becoming more pronounced after I’ve toured here,” says Greg as he easily slips from saying swimming trunks to togs, from the trunk of the car to the boot and from driving on the right side of the road to the left.

When their schedules allow, Greg’s wife of 26 years, Kelli Barksdale, a renowned stuntwoman, will bring Ruby June to meet him at the end of the tour, however not on this trip. She has just finished one contract and has more work lined up, so dad duties call him back.

Wife Kelli and daughter Ruby June won’t be joining Greg on tour this time.

“Kelli’s just finished working on Stranger Things in Atlanta for a month,” he tells. “She flew in two days before I flew out. Luckily, it doesn’t cross over too often.

“They were down here almost exactly a year ago. My sister Roslyn was instrumental in us all staying in Rotorua. We did the tree walk, the mud pools and the Māori village – and we loved it. It’s a different culture for them.

“And we got to hang out with relatives. A lot of the older ones have died off, so the cousins are hanging out a lot more as well.”

The couple has talked about spending more time in Aotearoa and would jump at the chance.

“It’d be great if someone wanted Kelli to come work on something for a couple months,” he muses. “But I think she’s leaning towards retirement now she’s getting close to 50. It’s hard on your body – there’s a lot riding on flying through the air and smashing on the ground. You really have to get it right.

“She’s really up there with over 160 credits for huge films and massive TV shows,” he says proudly. “She’s had a really amazing career.”

LA life is fairly chill for the couple. They walk Ruby June to school and her ballet lessons are just around the corner from Greg’s studio.

“She is heavily into ballet,” he shares. “She’s at a really good ballet school, which has seen a lot of top-end, world class ballerinas. They’ve got six pupils in the New York ballet and Moscow ballet. She also does musical theatre and plays violin.”

He recalls playing at the Auckland Seafood Market a few years ago, when Ruby June was on the merchandise stand, hustling on her dad’s behalf.

“She was only about seven or eight and this American girl, she had a real sales pitch – ‘You’ve got the CD, now you need the t-shirt!’ I’ll tell you, the Kiwis didn’t know what hit them,” recounts the Tui award winner smiling.

“We do have good time hanging out. The beach is a 15-minute stroll, so we go there for boogie boarding. I’m a huge fan of surf – always have been. But we didn’t have a family bach growing up. We did a lot of overseas travel because my dad was a pilot.

“Those were the good times. I learned to swim in Hawaii. I remember my first trip to Hong Kong was when I was 12 – it just completely blew my mind.”

Greg brushes quickly over a health scare that saw him spend six weeks in hospital with a flu that became pneumonia in 2020. It led to his diagnosis of diverticulitis and the need to have part of his intestine removed.

“That was pretty awful. But I haven’t had anything since then. I was pretty healthy anyway and I eat pretty damn well these days.

“Bad things happen whatever you do, so you just got to enjoy the good things. I’m loving life and hoping to play until the day I drop.”

For tour details and tickets, see plus1.co.nz/greg24

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