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Deanna Johnston

Deanna Johnston:
Rock Star In Excess
Dr. Music talks with the RockStar:INXS star about the 70's, The Singing Bee, and Afghanistan
 
   Many of you will remember her name, and a few more might remember her stunning beauty, but anyone that watched the RockStar: INXS television reality show consistently is sure to remember the husky and soulful voice of Deanna Johnston.
   When Johnston performed Melissa Etheridge's "I'm The Only One" and left the stage to run through the crowd, the reality show took a dramatic turn. As she ran up to the guys in INXS and belted out "I'm the only one who'll walk across a fire for you," it was the first time that many viewers thought a female vocalist actually had a shot at fronting INXS. Her intensity and reckless abandon screamed "Rock And Roll," and it's that blend of passion and talent that keeps Deanna Johnston working in the business today.

 
 
   After being released from the RockStar: INXS show, Johnston was soon snatched up for a vocalist spot in the house band of the television game show The Singing Bee. After the show suddenly went on hiatus, Johnston soon found work with classic rock legend Joe Lynn Turner, appearing on Turner's latest CD, "Second Hand Life." She is also due to appear on longtime Heart guitarist Howard Leese's debut solo release. Apart from her daily life in Nashville, Johnston also finds herself in Los Angeles quite frequently, singing with L.A. Allstars, a corporate band in which she is co-owner. She recently released a 5-song EP entitled, "GFN," which is an acronym for God, Family, Nature.
 
   I was recently invited to visit with Deanna Johnston at her home in Nashville. While I was passing through town on a family vacation, Johnston cordially invited me and my family into her home for an exclusive campfire-type recording session in which she so kindly performed for all of you, the readers of Dr. Music's Weekly Checkup. And to give you an idea of the type of person that Deanna Johnston is, I must tell you that this session was recorded as the sun was still starting to break the horizon line. I was on a tight schedule and could only meet with her in the early morning hours on June 16 (2008). She made sure to accomodate me and my family, no matter what time it was. The fact that she reminds me of Janis Joplin is not only because of her vocal style, but because of her uninhibited personality. There was no formality or extensive time needed to "get ready." Johnston is someone who likes to sing and has the confidence to perform in any setting, under any conditions. The recordings of that session appear throughout the interview below and represent a very special moment for me and my family, and also for Dr. Music's Weekly Checkup. They were recorded with all of you in mind, from the heart and soul of a wonderfully talented singer, Deanna Johnston.
 
 Play AudioAUDIO EXCLUSIVE - Part One
Deanna Johnston and her guitarist Shawn Rorie perform "Rare Desert Rain" from her latest CD, "GFN." Deanna also talks about the Rockstar:INXS house band, and the time she had to prepare for each performance.
 
Dr. Music: Your latest release, "GFN," is a title that stands for "God, Family, Nature," which sounds deeply personal. Can you tell me how you chose this title?  
Deanna Johnston: "To be honest I didn't really even sit down and try to come up with a title, it just came to me, without really even trying or thinking about it.  GFN, it's what's most important to me in life.......I can't even imagine going through life without having faith and a belief in God, or looking out my window and not seeing trees or hiking in the forest, or having a family support unit that I can always count on."
 
"I'm gonna plant my dreams and watch 'em grow in that Rare Desert Rain"
                                                                                           lyrics from "Rare Desert Rain"
 
DM:  In 1996 you released a CD of original material under the name Mary Magdalene. A lot has happened since that time. Do you feel that your singing and songwriting styles have changed? If so, what is the biggest change?
DJ:  "That CD was recorded and written at the very beginning of my career.  It was my first time in the studio actually, and my first time even writing songs.  So EVERYTHING, absolutely EVERYTHING has changed on all levels for me!!!  I'd say the only thing that hasn't changed is where I sing from, emotionally speaking.  I'm still not afraid to just let it out, straight out of my gut, without editing, even if I hit some 'funk' along the way. It's about being real and in the moment."
 
DM:  You have shown many influences through your singing style and the songs you've chosen to cover. Who would you say is your biggest influence?
DJ:  "Janis Joplin is probably the most listened to artist in my musical journey, but really anything blues based, raw, emotional with a funky soul!!  Any soul rock singer....Aretha Franklin, Paul Rodgers, Robert Plant, Bono, Sass Jordan, Steve Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Ray Lamontange, etc. etc...."
 
Play Audio AUDIO EXCLUSIVE - Part Two
After getting a surprise request from my daughter, Deanna Johnston and Shawn Rorie pull off a fun-filled version of The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." Johnston also talks about her plans for any future releases.
 
DM:  You can pack only one CD in the suitcase. Which one is it?
DJ:  "Well my iPod is very small, smaller than a CD, so I don't have to answer this question, haa!! Very difficult to answer that. I'm really not a FULL cd person actually. Not very many CD's keep my interest from front to back ....only the old ones ....concept albums like 'Dark Side of the Moon.' CD's today have some singles and then nothing else, in my opinion. I do LOVE Ray LaMontagne CD's or Sarah McLachlan CD's. Love to listen to an introspective CD the best......"
 
DM:  If you could choose anyone alive today to work with, who would it be? Why?
DJ:  "Can I choose more than one?? Ha!! Bono - love his message, music, voice....Lenny Kravitz, same reason.  Aretha Franklin. She's the best singer that ever lived, in my opinion ....has it all. I would love to be able to spend time with her and learn from her. I would LOVE to cut a song with Black Crowes, or Aerosmith, or Robert Plant."
 
DM:  Did you watch any of the "RockStar: Supernova" show? If so, why do you think it wasn't as successful as the first season (RockStar: INXS) that you were involved with?
DJ:  "It lacked heart. It came across cold and contrived to me.  No one cared about why they were there, and no one seemed to want to be there (talking about the band Supernova).  Seemed like the producers just chose contestants for TV, who all had the same vibe - dark hair and tattoos. It lacked heart and substance, I thought.  INXS was a LOVED, very loved, respected band with a ton of great hits and songs to work with.  The show overall had more of a family, love, respect sort of feel, with great music."
 
Play Audio AUDIO EXCLUSIVE - Part Three
Johnston talks about her RockStar:INXS performance of Melissa Etheridge's "I'm The Only One," the chances of a woman becoming the singer for INXS, and RockStar:Supernova.

DM:  Besides yourself, who do you feel INXS should have picked as their singer?
DJ:  "Actually, I wouldn't have picked me either. I was so NOT right for the band!! But I DID want to be in the Top 3. I think they chose the right person, actually. JD, as wacky as he is in so many ways, is a great front man for that band. Saw them live ....he was PERFECT."

DM:  If I remember correctly, Dave Navarro offered to work with you when you were eliminated from the RockStar: INXS show. Have you talked with Dave about working together on any level?
DJ:  "Yes, I reached out to him a few times, but never got any support back....I'll leave it at that.  He was always very supportive and sooo cool on the show, however."
 
DM:  You recently recorded with two legends of Rock and veterans of the music business, Howard Leese and Joe Lynn Turner. What were those experiences like, and was there any particular piece of advice or musical technique that was imparted to you that might change your perspective or your approach to the music business in the future?
DJ:  "Well, first of all, working with both of them was an AMAZING experience, but terribly intimidating as a vocalist. I mean Howard ....guitar player for HEART ....hello!! Ann Wilson is one of THE, if not THE GREATEST female rock singers of all time, and here I am with my wacky voice singing a track for his record, knowing he's used to working with the best. And JLT, is another unbelievably GREAT singer. Again, one of the best rock voices ever. So I felt honoured and very small lacking ability at the same time!!! But, writing the two songs I did with each of them was a great experience. Somehow I came up with some really strong material!! Yeah!!!!"
 
DM:  You are part of the L.A. Allstars, which is an entertainment group that is hired by large corporate clients such as Walt Disney, Sony, and a host of other huge conglomerates for parties. How does this gig differ from the traditional band gig? Which do you prefer? [Do you ever wish you were back with a traditional band like Mask, dressing up like Madonna again?!! : )]
DJ:  "Haa!!! MASK, haven't heard that in a while. I wouldn't wanna be back there in that band for all the money in the world!!! NO WAY.....YUCK. LA ALLSTARS are a fantastic corporate band - top notch, pro players. I feel lucky to be part owner of a group like that. Those gigs are typically for more of a studio voice, more of a technical singer, but for some reason the chemistry between myself and the two other fronts is brilliant and works. That kind of a gig vs. a Deanna Johnston show is COMPLETELY different in all ways. LA ALLSTARS covers any and all genres of music; 4 singers, horn player, keys, choreography. My band is small, dirty and totally unrehearsed, playing songs no one's ever heard!!!!!  You get what you get!!! Ha!!!!  I'd rather be touring singing my own material, but singing is singing...."

DM:  You are constantly singing songs from almost every genre of music - rock, soul, R&B, adult contemporary, country, etc. Do you ever feel like you need to define yourself as a singer?

DJ:  "I did feel like that for many years, but because I never had a real 'artist' attitude or way of thinking, I didn't really know I hadn't defined my voice yet. I've spent the majority of my music career singing covers, making a living. Never needed to have MY sound or style, even though sooo many years on stage singing so many different styles created one!!!  I think my style, sound, and image is pretty obvious at this point, finally. Thankfully I GET it and it comes across!!!!  If you come to one of my shows and don't hear and see who I am, then you must be deaf and blind.....no disrespect!!!!"

Play Audio    AUDIO EXCLUSIVE - Part Four
Deanna Johnston and Shawn Rorie perform "Let's Get High" from Johnston's latest release, "GFN."
        
DM:  Where does Deanna Johnston's true musical passion lie? ......Celine Dion or Pat Benatar? ........Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin?
DJ:  "In ways, all of the above!!!  Celine Dion is an amazing singer and a great live performer. Pat Benatar, WOW!!! Janis, Aretha!!! All great female singers, the best. They've all had major roles in helping me learn, grow and develop.  But again, my voice truly comes through on gut wrenching, blues tunes - raw.  In one of my songs on GFN, 'Rare Desert Rain', the first line is 'I was born, born with a heartache'..  That, for some reason, seems to be true when you hear me sing - not sure why. I've had a great life, great family, not anymore heartache than anyone else I know. The blues singers and musicians, where they're coming from is what I GET and love the most out of all genres..."
 
DM:  What decade do you feel closest to musically - 60's, 70's, 80's, or 90's - and why?
DJ:  "70's...most experimental, free, honest........loved the soul, energy and vibe of that time.  And of course, the clothes were the best!!!!  Ha!!!"

DM:  I believe you went over to Afghanistan back in 2006 to perform for the Canadian troops. Tell me about that experience.
DJ:  "Life changing, humbling....something everyone needs to experience if given the chance. It was like being part of something way greater than yourself or anything you've ever experienced. I'm going back in August, but I'm not allowed to say where...."

DM:  Even though the ratings were decent, NBC's game show, The Singing Bee, was cancelled. What was your experience on The Singing Bee like, and what explanation were you given for the show's cancellation?
DJ:  "The ratings for Singing Bee were actually AMAZING when it first aired - 12 million!!!  It toasted it's competition 'Don't Forget The Lyrics,' actually. I was never told why it went off the air. There are at least 6-8 more episodes that we shot that are GREAT - way better than the first run - that have never aired. Maybe it'll come out again, who knows. For the record, that was the toughest, most stressful gig I've EVER done. Wayyyy more stressful than RockStar. I'd rather not get into why!!! Ha!! Let's just say that behind the scenes was very challenging...."
 
 Play Audio    AUDIO EXCLUSIVE - Part Five
Deanna Johnston and Shawn Rorie reach down deep to perform the tender ballad "Love Won't" from Johnston's latest 5-song EP, "GFN."
 
DM:  What's the next step for Deanna Johnston?

DJ:  "Something that is great, and terribly wrong with the music biz, is you literally never know what's around the corner. Could be another amazing opportunity to sing on TV and make a butt load of money, or getting a record deal ....or it could be nothing for months and months and then wondering what the crap I'm doing still pursuing it!!! Ha!!! I just finished my EP, 'GFN' and trying to give it a chance to be heard by record companies here in Nashville. Doors will open when they're supposed to; trick is to not try and open the wrong ones. In the meantime, my songwriting partner, Shawn Rorie, and I are going to start working on another EP. I'd love to be able to do one every 6 months. I really really wanna tour this year as an artist, but not sure yet how to execute that!!!! And I really really really wanna go to Europe and tour and travel. Again, not sure yet how to make that happen ....so WISH ME LUCK!!!!  Let's see what else.... Learning the guitar currently ....love that ....wanna become a better songwriter and singer. That's a weird thing to 'learn.' Not even sure if it's learnable, ya know what I mean, but wanna feel myself elevate."
  
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This is usually the spot where I thank all those involved with making the interview happen; and in this case, it was just myself and Deanna Johnston hammering out a schedule. I would like to send a big thank you to Shawn Rorie for getting up at the crack of dawn to play guitar for us, though! But I just can't find words that express enough appreciation for the hospitality that Deanna has shown me and my family. Inviting us into her home and performing privately for the Dr. Music website is something that truly touches my heart.
So, since I am at a loss for better words, I will just say THANK YOU. From myself, my family, and all of the readers of Dr. Music's Weekly Checkup.......Thank you so very very much.
 
Check out the tunes on her MySpace page:
www.MySpace.com/deannajohnston

.......and then go to her website to purchase the 5-song EP, "GFN.":
http://www.deannajohnston.net/merch.html

 

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