Carolyn Dawn Johnson
"I remember asking my mother when I was young how anyone could live without it?" recalls the Canadian-born singer-songwriter. "Music could make me happy, make me cry, soothe me.. And, music could and still does take me to places nothing else can."
As expressed with lyrics of heart-on-the-sleeve candor and vocals of crystal-like brilliance, Johnson's perspective on music is evidenced on Room With A View, her debut album on Arista/Nashville. And, not only is her career introduction a testament to the power music has had upon her, but, it is as much a personal assertion of what goal-setting, learning from even the slightest experiences and remaining true to oneself can bring about.
Despite her initial leanings toward "more traditional" non-musical career paths, it was Carolyn Dawn Johnson's dream of music that continually colored her emotional landscape. Born on a farm in Deadwood, Alberta, she was surrounded by music early on. Her parents listened to Jim Reeves and Don Williams, and Carolyn found herself drawn to a wide range of artists, from Charley Pride and Amy Grant to Patty Loveless, Marty Stuart, Jann Arden, Sheryl Crow, Fleetwood Mac, Abba and Martraca Berg. She would make her own recordings on a home tape recorder, and attend every concert she could.
Between her college studies in the sciences and her weekend work in a health club, Carolyn Dawn Johnson would sit in at local country bars, feeding her ever-growing love for music. And - as often times happens when the talent is real and the passion so obvious - people noticed.
"Back then I would get such encouraging responses," says the country newcomer. "People who were drawn to my voice would ask if I wanted to join a band. My standard response was, 'no, I'm going to school.' But, every time I'd be thinking, 'maybe I can do it.'"
When she was 19, her "maybe" turned into the first tentative steps toward the musical career she'd dreamed of but had always feared was out of reach.
"I really started believing in the power of positive thinking," she says. "I did a lot of goal-setting. I'd write things down and make them come true, I think sometimes just by setting the goals. I'd ask myself, 'What are the little steps that can get me where I want to go?' and I'd try to do something every single day to achieve a step or two."
Soon after, her first giant steps fell into place. Carolyn took a year off, played music, and spent ten months at a recording engineering school in Vancouver, British Columbia, learning the technical aspects of the business. She studied Billboard to learn who was who in the business, and sent away for a how-to songwriting video featuring hit Nashville writers. She joined the Nashville Songwriters Association International and traveled to Music City to participate in one of its workshops in 1994. The positive feedback she received added further legitimacy to her quest. For three years, she commuted between Alberta and Nashville until she was able to obtain a work visa.
Her talent, drive, and practical, goal-setting approach opened more and more doors. She began singing demos for other writers, and began writing with some of them. Late in 1997, she signed a publishing deal with Patrick Joseph Music, home to Matraca Berg, among others.
Carolyn's cuts came quickly. First were "Squeezing The Love Out Of You" and "I Want To Know," both on an album by Redmond & Vale. Kathy Mattea cut "Out Of The Blue." Her first single was "I'm Yours," the title track to an album by Linda Davis. Then she was asked to sing on Kenny Rogers' Wild Horses album.
"My plan was to dwell on writing, and then, in a year or two, aim for a record deal," Carolyn remembers. "But, sometimes things happen quicker that you could ever hope for." After she sang on more and more demos, record labels began calling and asking about her availability as an artist.
Prior to inking her record deal, Carolyn Dawn Johnson met Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks, Pam Tillis, Martina McBride) who offered to produce her first studio outing. Around this time she also met her manager, Scott Simon, who first experienced her singing "My Baby Loves Me" and "Heaven's Just A Sin Away" at a club in Nashville's Printers' Alley. In between gigs, she waited tables and tended bar at Phil Vassar's Hard Day's Night club, a hole-in-the-wall venue that Johnson calls "Nashville's best-kept secret." It was here where she ultimately met the Arista/Nashville executives who would offer her a label home.
Coupled with her natural talent, Carolyn Dawn Johnson's incredible work ethic has carried her in a few short years to the brink of national notoriety. The release of her first album caps a year in which her success with "Single White Female" (a #1 hit for Chely Wright) helped earn her Music Row magazine's "Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year" award for 2001.
Room With A View is a vivid display of Carolyn's impressive reputation as a songwriter, studio singer and background vocalist on the road. Her compositions have been recorded by artists including Jo Dee Messina, Pam Tillis and Kathy Mattea. Her credits as studio vocalist have appeared on album releases for Patty Loveless, Loretta Lynn and Kenny Rogers. And as backup singer for Martina McBride's live show, she took her talents on the road for McBride's 1999 and 2001 tour.
Add her skill of studio production to the list, and you have a complete resume on Carolyn Dawn Johnson and her signature blueprint of "positive thinking and action."
Room With A View is a culmination of soaring harmonies, compelling vocals and searing emotional honesty. On her stunning debut project, Johnson is joined by the likes of Martina McBride, Marty Stuart, Kim Carnes, Matraca Berg, Al Anderson, Mary Ann Kennedy, and Jason Sellers, artists whose respect for her music led them to lend their singing and playing talents. All of these elements were assembled in a first-effort collaboration by the Johnson-Worley production team.
Comprised entirely of Carolyn Dawn Johnson's writings, Room With A View is obviously the work of someone able to bring the highly personal into play in making art. "Georgia," the first single, as well as the title cut, "Masterpiece," "Complicated," and "One Day Closer" - in fact, her entire song list - are clear proof that Carolyn is a master at transforming simple stories into richly-detailed pictorials and ear-taunting music into a wonderful soundtrack of modern day life and love.
"I put everything about me out there," Carolyn says. "That's the way I live my life. Maybe I show too much, but I didn't really have a choice when it came to making the record. My favorite stuff is the really personal parts."
Reflecting on the professionals that she aligned with when she moved to Nashville, Carolyn states, "I have had a great team of people around me and a record company that didn't try to change me," she says. There is, of course, the bottom line that the album represents something she has always believed about music, that in its ability to convey the inner reaches of the human spirit, it can sear us or heal us. It was for that reason that the songs on the album are so personal.
"Someone said, 'How do you feel about exposing your innermost self like that?' and I said, "I just don't think there's any other way to do it. I don't think it could have been anything else. That would have been lying to my listeners and lying to myself."
It is this powerful philosophy that makes Room With A View such a compelling opening salvo from singer-songwriter-producer Carolyn Dawn Johnson.