I grew up in Orange County, CA. My Dad loved the beach and pretty views so we moved back and forth from the beach in the winter to central O.C. in the summer when they raised the rents. My parents weren't particularly musical, although my father was intensely creative so I was exposed to many mediums of art. My mom was into early Stones, Beatles, Rod Stewart and my dad was into classical, Sinatra, and jazz greats. My grandmother was Miss Kentucky and a jazz vocalist that made a name for herself around Washington D.C.
I spent whole days in my room listening to music, memorizing lyrics and at about six years old I remember singing in my bedroom to a Beatles tune and thinking it sounded kinda good. I told one person about my bedroom revelation-a friend who took lessons of every kind-and she informed me that it did not sound good and I believed her, so instead, I took up the flute.
I loved playing music and winning awards and performing all over Orange County occasionally singing a solo with the school choir. But when I got into high school, they didn't have a separate concert band-you had to be in the marching band as well. I was mortified to have to wear a large hat and march on the football field in front of the whole school, so there went my flute career.
So with no musical outlet, I started singing again. Shortly after high school, I sent a tape to Julliard School of the Arts in New York and was invited to fly to New York for an audition. With no previous vocal training, I had to cram in classical voice and foreign language lessons into a few months. After two days of intense auditions in New York, I didn't make the final cut, but it was a great experience.
After that, I toured the East Coast and Europe with an American top forty group. I spent several years taking music and English lit classes, working temp jobs, and trying to pay rent singing covers in various bands and duos. One desperate year I even did singing telegrams. I was unsatisfied musically and decided to quit singing--again.
But music would not stop haunting me and it was the birth of my son that inspired me to finally find the courage to put my own pen to paper. Shortly thereafter, I enrolled in a songwriting class at Saddleback College where I met Randy Rusk, a gifted guitarist/songwriter/teacher, who became a musical mentor to Greg and me. He encouraged and taught me to put structure and form to the pages of lyrics and melodies that were pouring out of me. I actually wore out a Billie Holiday CD and I immersed myself in music by female singer/ songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin, Bonnie Raitt, Emmy Lou Harris, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega, and Patty Griffin. It helped that I happened to be married to an amazing guitarist and songwriter....Greg Johnson.
Greg also grew up in Orange County, CA. He comes from a very musical and artistic family. His mom was a folk recording artist; his grandfather still plays the piano for hire at age 84-everyone in his family is a musician or painter. He started out loving off road motorcycles in his early teens, but after a bad crash that crushed his knee, he opted to sell his dirt bike for a guitar. He immediately began writing his own tunes and started a punk band playing at parties. His first band "Thoughts of Youth" featured his originals rebelliously dark and edgy but still very melodic. Old pictures of him are classic with bleached white spiky hair, earrings, eyeliner, leather jacket, and combat boots. His friends nicknamed him Zoom as his idol was Billy Zoom from the band X. Greg's played in every genre punk, Rock-a-billy, blues, alt.rock, and acoustic at clubs and coffee shops throughout OC and LA. His biggest influences have been the Beatles, X, Rock-a-Billy, the Blasters, Brian Setzer, U2, and Crowded House.
In 2000, after spending most of 1999 composing songs together, we started playing our originals and b-side covers regularly at my best friend's brother's restaurant in San Clemente. We used those gigs to work out songwriting kinks and branch out to a few coffee shops around OC (thank you Jonny).
In 2002, we went in the studio to record a demo but it turned into a bigger project. A six song self-produced compilation of our most polished originals. We titled the CD "Blossom" which originated from a song that didn't make it on the CD (although it's featured on our second album), but still seemed fitting as the overall theme of the songs are really about my personal struggle to "blossom" into my own my own role as a human being and artist. We borrowed the musical and artistic talents of our friends to complete the CD.
For the next year we played shows every weekend at various coffee shops, small venues and private house concerts. We sold over 500 copies of Blossom without marketing it and we were trying to keep up with life and the new songs that were originating through us. We wanted help recording these new songs and searched for a year for someone to produce a follow up ten song CD. We either couldn't afford the producers we wanted or they weren't a match for our music. Just when I thought maybe we'd have to hock our house for the recording, Paul Stebner-sigh of relief-was plopped right in front of us. Paul is an amazing guitar player, owns Slack Boy Studios and was blossoming as a producer. We had great chemistry working with Paul who brought out the best in us and the honesty that we were striving for our songs.
After a year of hibernating, recording and dealing with many personal and family affairs-including caring for my father up until his death on 8/1/04-our second album View From My Room was born. View From My Room is almost painstakingly honest about polarity struggles within myself. Track 2 "Light" is a song that many people have told us they relate to as it is written for my son about the sudden courage after his birth to take on the gift of music that has been so apparent in my life. We have been asked to play that song at peaceful parenting conventions and meetings and finally have a recorded version to offer.
The whole recording process and unfolding of our music thus far has been surreal. Just when we were going to use one of those cash checks you get with your credit card statement to pay for the recording, we had a flood in our home and received a check from the insurance company that covered the cost of repairs and almost the exact amount we owed for the recording. We had amazing musicians sit in with us: Paul Stebner's bass and electric guitar flavors can be heard all over the album as well as Jon Mattox on drums-Jon is a musician from LA with an impressive bio-you probably know him from his days with the Young Dubliners and he now fronts his own band Laughing with LuLu-John Bazz from the Blasters sat in (John was a good sport even when Greg was drooling over him), Kerry Getz "Orange County's very own songstress" did back up vocals on Border Radio-the only cover song written by Dave Alvin, Steve Carson sang on three tunes-check out his band SCB and their amazing live show, Alex Armstrong played riquinto and electric guitar-he's our former neighbor who just happened to a Latin guitarist extraordinaire touring with Lalo Guerrero the godfather of Chicano music, dobro player Don Reed from the Dennis Roger Reed bluegrass group sat in, Marnie Ann's angel voice can be heard on two songs-she was the lead vocalist of O.C. band The Lifters and currently lead vocalist of her band The Projects, Randy Rusk-our longtime friend and mentor made a brief appearance, Carol Roman-pianist and composer played on two songs-we brought her in for only one but when we played a few bars of Invisible for her she added piano to the chorus and we quickly pressed record giving it the depth I miss when we play it just acoustically now; and last but not least Shane Johnson at six years old made a cameo appearance on the vibra-slapper. So there you have it-View From My Room-- from its conception and birth on January 29 th, 2005.
After the death of my father and a whirlwind life changing year, we decided to give in to the "haunting" so we sold our home benefiting from the crazy O.C. real estate market, sold most of our belongings, quit our corporate jobs and school, bought an RV and hit the road in January 2005 as a duo- well trio- Shane was our roadie and photographer in between his home schooling projects.
What are we up to now? We've since settled in Colorado on a few acres of land/heaven with a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains. When we're not playing music, you can find Charlene in her vegetable garden, Greg on the golf course, and Shane always the explorer on our property and the canyons surrounding us.
Our intention is to live authentically and in that process hopefully make some little difference in the world - as we continue to grow musically writing songs that are honest.
Thank you for taking the time to read about our journey. Drop us a line if you have something to say, we'd love to hear from you!