Guitarist Johnny Hiland was born with nystagmus, a medical condition causing involuntary eye movement and rendering him legally blind. He grew up in a trailer home in Woodland, ME, and took to the guitar at a young age. At eight, he joined his family's band, the Three Js, which toured New England under the auspices of the Down East Country Music Association. At ten, Hiland won the Talent America contest, entitling him to a performance in New York City. In high school, his musical tastes extended beyond bluegrass to the guitar rock of players like Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen. After high school, he attended the University of Southern Maine as a history major, but ultimately dropped out to become a professional musician.
In 1996, he moved to Nashville, where he quickly attracted attention at local clubs, earning a residency at the World-Famous Turf and, when that club was destroyed by a tornado in 1998, at Robert's Western Wear with Don Kelly's band. He backed Gary Chapman at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry, and became the first unsigned artist in Nashville to receive an endorsement deal with Fender musical instruments. After his manager left part of a demo on Steve Vai's voice mail, Vai called back with an offer for Hiland to sign to his Favored Nations label. There followed two years of trial-and-error preparation for Hiland's first album of original country and rock guitar instrumentals, Johnny Hiland, released in August 2004. Meanwhile, Hiland had become a busy session musician in Nashville, recording with Ricky Skaggs, Toby Keith, Randy Travis, Janie Fricke, and Lynn Anderson. ~ William Ruhlmann