June 20th, 2011
I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard her music. It was Keith and Lana Floen’s annual musician’s picnic on Sunday of the Labour Day Long weekend. There was a break in the jamming, so Country 105 was playing over the PA. I was actually chatting with Lana when ‘Georgia’ came on the radio. She quickly stopped in the middle of our conversation and said, “have you heard this yet”. I hadn’t, so we took a break from chatting and listened together. I’ve always respected Lana’s ear for music, and when the song was over, she had not let me down. She went on to tell me what little she knew of this singer … she was Canadian and a writer who had got an American deal.
CCMA’s were only a week away and you can always count on the record companies to parade their latest and greatest around, introducing them to the industry. I’m not sure at what point it was in the weekend, but it was during Country Music Week 2000 that I experienced the complete artistry of Carolyn Dawn Johnson. It was just her, with her accoustic and I totally remember being blown away overall, but did take special note of how she could really play guitar… I hate to say for a woman, but a chick that can really play always scores points with me.
So she’s Canadian….Albertan to boot, she’s a writer, singer, player… and then I found out she co-produced her stuff??? Stop the music.
I went to the CD store the day that ‘Room With a View’ was released… and sure enough, there it was on the back. Produced by Paul Worley and co-produced by Carolyn Dawn Johnson. Well how about that! This was one of those CD’s that I probably drove mom crazy with. Luckily, she has great taste in music, but I definitely ran the risk of wearing it out. In fact, I think I bought two copies as It was one of those albums that I could put on and leave it until it was over.
I just knew that someday I wanted this woman to produce something for me.
Fast forward to the first opportunity to see her live , with a band, and it was opening for Merle Haggard. Not a bad bonus headliner, but I was going to see the woman who’s music and story I had completely fallen in love with. Now this was around the time that the internet was really starting to heat up, and I went on her website and noticed something about meet and greets. I had never been backstage before, so I filled out a form, thinking it was a longshot, but hoping I would get to meet her. And sure enough, I got an email back, and just before her set, in the bowels of the Calgary Saddledome, in the visitor’s dressing room… I got my CD signed and we took a picture together. I probably said something stupid as I was very nervous, but I got a moment with someone who I felt could really inspire me in my own musical journey.
I think I sometimes take the meet and greet for granted, and what it feels like for someone to have the opportunity to go backstage. Next time I take a winner backstage, I’m going to think back to that moment before CDJ walked into that meet and greet and how I felt when a star entered the room and took time for me. Something not to be taken for granted again.
Jump ahead…over a pile of awards, chart success North and South of the border, and on a plane to Nashville in 2004 where I was to finish recording my CD. I had been power writing to get the last few songs and had a night off when my Idol and friend Patricia Conroy invited me to a Halloween party she was having at her place. Michelle Wright was there who I had the pleasure of getting to know a bit earlier that fall at CCMA’s – she’s a great woman and reminded me as soon as I walked in the door not to take off my boots as I was in America! The TV was showing the Grand Ole Opry in the background as we all visited… and then the visiting stopped… Carolyn was about to perform on the hallowed stage. After she rocked it, Patricia mentioned casually, they’re always so casual like this in Nashville, “oh, yeah, Carolyn said she may stop by after”. That’s just what it’s like in that town… in my head I was like “whoa”… in a very Joey from Blossom kinda way.
Sure enough, the doorbell rang not that long after we watched her sing on the Opry. All I could think is how is it possible that I am at a party with my 2 favourite singers on planet earth… like seriously? I wasn’t gonna pounce but I sure as heck was going to make my way over and say hi. At some point she was in the kitchen chatting with Bob … Patricia’s hubby who I adore – and I bopped over for more wine. Bob introduced us and said I was from Canada and in town recording. She was genuinely interested in my story… who was producing it, who were the players were booked to play on it, what studio etc. I remember vividly that she told me with a smile…. “you’ll never forget how it feels to make your first record. I remember making my first, enjoy every moment of it”.
I interviewed her for my Canadian Top 10 countdown when I worked at Country 100 in Moose Jaw, and spent a few mins with her that Country Music Week, she remembered me from Patricia’s party and I thought that was sweet. My now co-host Greg Shannon spent quite a bit of time with CDJ and her Husband Matt at CCMA’s in St. Johns, which I think lead to her agreeing to join us as we recorded a year end Special for Big Earl in Edmonton.
She was performing an acoustic show on our stage at West Ed, so we grabbed her in the afternoon and she was a great sport, putting up with us and our shenanigans. In all honesty, I was still a bit nervous around her because I thought so much of her talent. At this point, she had recorded 3 albums and wore a producer hat on all of them… she worked with Dann Huff for crying in the sink! Sure, the US deal was no longer, but her independent release ‘Love and Negotiation’ was as good, if not better than her music that had Major US support behind it.
After we recorded our radio special, she had a little time before the hitting the stage. We gave her our office to get ready and sit down for a bit. I was gonna just leave her be, but we got visiting about this and that. At one point, she looked at me and said, ‘You know, I haven’t even heard your record’. See, I’m not one of these people who jams a copy of their CD in the face of any and everyone. It’s all around awkward. But, with an invitation, I’m happy to share something I’m very proud of. So I did. A couple of months later, she had sent an email saying she really enjoyed it and thought I did a great job. She had given it a real listen and I was grinning for days.
I caught up with her and Matt backstage at Craven about 6 months later where we chatted about lots of things. A bit about my CD and some production stuff on it, and I asked her if she ever thought she was gonna produce for other people. We had that same conversation down the road at another radio station function in Edmonton… our celebrity hockey game that she officiated. She was our surprise celebrity for the game and after concert at Cook Country. She made an extra effort to make sure she was there early enough to catch my mini set as it was an all star cast on stage that night. I caught a glimpse of her a few times side stage… I felt like she was digging it and had really kind words after. Never mind that, when she took to the stage later on to surprise fans, they went wild. At one point during ‘Die of a Broken Heart’ she stopped singing and the crowd took over and from the top of their lungs they sang out every word. Talk about a massive goose bump moment.
I hadn’t seen her for a while, but was overjoyed both times we learned that she and Matt had become parents. And when new music came out shortly after their second was born, country radio was more than ready to have her back. She popped by the radio station to promote her new CD which I was pumped to hear knowing full well she had produced this one too. After her interview I went outside with her where Matt was coming back from a walk with the kids and got the chance to meet the little muffins.
I scammed a copy of her new ‘Love Rules’ CD from her people – thanks Jill – and it did not leave my car CD player for probably 2 months. I absolutely loved it. It was Edgy and Passionate. She rocked the new and the hits when she came thru on her Canadian tour last October. I had friends in Calgary who wanted to see the show to, so I actually whipped down and took the gals before seeing the show in Red Deer the next night. I could have seen it 5 more times and it wouldn’t have been enough! She was sounding better than ever. She asked me to join her for a tune during the Red Deer show so we chose ‘One Day Closer to You’, a song that I’ve always had a special place for. I can honestly say that night was a highlight of my singing career for sure…
Shortly before that tour during CCMA’s, CDJ was one of the Artists on the Hall of Honor concert I produced. It was there, as she was bound to the makeup chair and had nowhere to go… I threw an idea at her and was happy to see she was moderately intrigued. A wise man once said to me ‘all ya gotta do is ask’… so I called her a few months later and said I was ready to record new music and wondered if she would produce it.
So here I am, writing this entry from Nashville. In an hour or so I will be heading back into Carolyn’s studio to work on more vocals for the 2 songs she’s producing for me. Not only is she steering this ship, but one of the tunes we penned together. I absolutely love how they’re coming together. I feel like they are completely me and that she is capturing exactly who I am…and helping me find my artist again.
She’s an inspiring individual with unmeasurable talent and I’m a very blessed woman to be living in this moment.