Michael Johnson's having a not so blue New Year
WANT TO GO?
Woody Hawley Series presents Michael Johnson
WHERE: Walker Theater, Clay Center
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
The singer/songwriter, who performs Saturday night at the Clay Center for the first Woody Hawley show of the new year, said, "It was one of the best years ever. I signed with Red House Records, which means I actually got to make a CD."
Johnson, best known for songs like "Bluer than Blue," "Give Me Wings" and "The Moon I Still Over Her Shoulder," took a break from recording.
"The new record was the first one in about 15 years," the 68-year-old said, and then added, "Before that I was still working. I was doing stuff, but you know, when you're driving the ship yourself... I wound up on the couch more often than not."
Johnson credited his friend, folksinger John Gorka, with introducing him to the label, which in turn led to his being introduced to his new manager and agent and, of course, getting him back in the studio to record, "Moonlit Déjà vu."
"It's an introspective, but not autobiographical record," he said. "It's a very romantic record in a rather unromantic era, I would say."
He's proud of the record and, in particular, a duet he recorded with his daughter Truly Carmichael, a daughter he met just three years ago.
Johnson came up in music in the mid to late 1960s. In his early 20s, he said he met a young woman named Mary.
"I was a 25-year-old musician on the road. She was an 18-year-old girl. One thing led to another, but there wasn't going to be a wedding or a honeymoon."
Pregnant, the young woman told Johnson that she wanted to have the baby, but she was going to give the child up for adoption.
"And she did," Johnson said. "I stayed in touch as much as I could."
In the late 1960s, it was still common for unmarried pregnant women to be sent away to give birth. Mary, he explained, stayed in a home for unwed mothers, had the baby and then called him afterwards.
He said, "She called me said, 'It's a girl, everything is OK. Thanks for your support and being in touch and I'm going to go live my life now.' "
After that, she disappeared.
Meanwhile, Johnson slowly built a music career. Through the 1970s, he released several records and from the late 1970s to the late 1980s scored various hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and country charts. He worked with country/pop singers Juice Newton, Sylvia and later, bluegrass/country sensation Alison Krauss.
Into the 1990s, after changing labels, he recorded less and virtually vanished from the pop charts, though he continued to tour and wrote a column for Performing Songwriter magazine for several years.
In 2007, doctors informed Johnson that he needed surgery.
"Imagine my surprise when they said you need at least a quadruple bypass," he said.
Jokingly, he suggested they could do the surgery on his birthday, about a week away, then decided maybe he should have the birthday first and then have the surgery.
"It was the worst birthday I ever had," Johnson said.
Then three years ago, he got an email from someone claiming to be his daughter.
Johnson said, "She sent like a power point presentation, with all these pictures of her when she was in third grade, fourth grade and sixth grade.
"It knocked me on my tail."
He meant that literally.
"Your body doesn't know the difference between good stress and bad stress," he explained.
This was good stress, but it compromised his immune system. Suddenly, he was battling a case of shingles. Finding out she was alive and wanted to meet him also brought up a range of emotions, including buried guilt, grief and a couple of decades worth of worry.
"You can't have all of those feelings at once without going a little nuts," he said. "So... I did."
It took a little time and a little help to get himself right again, but after a couple of months, he was finally well enough to meet his daughter.
"And she's beautiful," he said. "She's gorgeous -- and a singer, too. Go 'fig."
They got to know each other and when Carmichael moved to Minneapolis a while back, Johnson took it as another reason for him to move back there as well.
Red House Records, Johnson's record label, is located in St. Paul --about 15 minutes away.
"And I had lived there for, like, 20 years," he said.
Johnson said he spent part of the close of 2012 with his daughter.
"We had dinner Christmas," he said.
It was a very good year.
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.