NEWS AND EVENTS

Orange County Register, Friday, November 1, 2002

Love, music, in that order
By ROBERT KINSLER
Special to the Register

Charlene Johnson has seemingly approached things backward, at least when it comes to forging a musical career.

"I had a kid, bought a house and thought (a singing career) was over," explained Johnson, who spent much of her late teens and early 20s studying music in college and performing with a Top 40 band, even touring Europe.

But she eventually got burned out singing music that was neither her own or artistically challenging, so she quit.
"In 1997, 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 longtime songwriting teacher at the Mission Viejo college, Rusk proved to be a mentor to Johnson and her husband and songwriting partner, Greg Johnson. Rusk encouraged Charlene to take her writings and turn them into songs.
In 2000, after spending more than a year writing and crafting their original material, the couple began to perform live. Although not always the rule, Charlene handles lyrics and Greg pens the music.

"Our songs evolve in our live shows," Greg said. The Tustin-based musical duo has been married almost nine years and their son, Shane, is 5.

Charlene usually performs at shows with Greg (acoustic and electric guitars) and Anton Shmerkin (bass, violin). On her newly released debut CD "Blossom," additional musicians were brought into the studio to augment the recordings; guest players included drummer John Ray, lap steel guitarist Greg DeCastro, backup singer Steve Carson and Rusk on guitar.

"Blossom" was recorded and engineered by Bill Bowman at The Shop in Huntington Beach. Although originally intended to be a demo, the six songs proved to be strong enough to release as a commercial effort.

"The main thing now is not to think about that (the image and marketing side of pop music), but to write the most honest songs I can that," said Charlene, noting the lyrical themes vary from song to song but are usually unified by a sense of hope. The music itself blends rock, country and folk elements in the sonic territory positioned between Shawn Colvin and Sixpence None the Richer.

"Somebody Help Me" was actually a journal entry that explored Charlene's emotions about breaking "out of her shell," while "I Crave You" - although commonly mistaken by audiences as having a sexual theme - is about finding joy and reaching a more satisfying place in one's own life.

"My music is my art, I look at it strictly like that," Charlene said. "If it (commercial success) happens, great. If not, we're happy with that too."

Greg agreed: "We like artistic freedom. It's not about the money for us; we love to perform and love to write songs and share that with others."
Added Charlene: "It's great for us as a couple too."


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