Johnson’s journey from small town roots

Carolyn Dawn Johnson is about as good as it gets when it comes to talent and beauty – inside and out. She’s one of the most awarded Canadian females in music, proving her talent time and time again. CDJ has come a long way from her humble beginnings in rural Alberta.

Rasied on a farm just outside of Deadwood, Alberta, Carolyn began playing piano in church at the age of 5. Her love of music began at a very young age. By the time the family moved to Westlock, Carolyn began playing other instruments in school, including the flute and saxophone. High school proved to be a tough time when her teachers told her there was no way to make a living doing music, so she shifted her focus to science.

After graduation, Johnson packed her things and moved to Langley, British Columbia to study biology. At the age of 20, while studying education in Edmonton, she taught herself to play guitar – and she was hooked. She made the move back out to BC, and began studying the technical side of the music business at the Columbia Academy. At night, she’d write songs. In 1994, she bit the bullet and went to Nashville for the first time.

After three years of making trips to Nashville, attending writer’s nights and meeting some key players in the industry, she signed her first publishing deal with Patrick Joseph Music. With this came some success as a professional songwriter, having her songs cut by likes of Patty Loveless, Mindy McCready, and Linda Davis. But the moment that really solidified CDJ’s presence in the country music scene was when Chely Wright took her song ‘Single White Female’ all the way to the #1 spot on the Billboard charts in 1999. Later that year, JoDee Messina took another one of CDJ’s songs to the top 5, called ‘Downtime’. MusicRow Magazine named Carolyn the ‘Breakout Songwriter of the Year’.

In 2000, Arista Nashville signed Carolyn to her first major US record deal and she began working with producer Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans). Worley asked CDJ to sing some background vocals on Martina McBride’s record – Martina loved her harmonies so much that later that year, she took Carolyn on the road with her as her backup vocalist and acoustic guitar player.

In 2001, Carolyn released her first single, ‘Georgia’ from her album Room With a View. The single charted at #4 in the US, and was later certified Gold in Canada. The follow up singles, ‘I Don’t Want You to Go’ and ‘Complicated’,  also had huge success and Carolyn was invited to tour with Reba, Martina McBride, Sara Evans, and Jamie O’Neal on the Girls Night Out Tour.

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At the Canadian Country Music Awards that year, Carolyn walked away with 5 awards from her 10 nominations, including Female Artist of the Year, Rising Star, and Album of the Year. Over the next couple of years, Carolyn toured with Alan Jackson and Kenny Chesney. She also co-headlined a tour with Keith Urban in 2003. While on tour, she began writing for her next album, which would be titled, Dress Rehearsal. The song ‘Die of a Broken Heart’ would feature Urban’s guitar and vocals.

Dress Rehearsal proved more success for CDJ with the singles, ‘Simple Life’ and the title track heading toward the top of the charts at home in Canada. After the release of the album, she parted ways with Arista Records.

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Love & Negotiation was a self-made labour of love. Carolyn wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks and produced it herself. It included the hits ‘Crybaby’ and ‘Into You’.  She was once again named CCMA Female Artist of the Year in 2007.

After marrying her husband Matt Fisher in 2003, Carolyn took time to begin her family and in 2008, Abigail Grace was welcomed into the world. Abigail became a big sister in early 2010, when little brother Bennett Derwin arrived. In between beginning her journey as a mom, Carolyn took time to begin writing her new record.

Love Rules hit the shelves during summer 2010. The first single, ‘Let Me Introduce Myself Again’ proved to be a smash. Other singles from the record included ‘The Whole Thing’, and the latest, ‘Reach You’. Carolyn also got to spend time on the road once again touring with Martina McBride this past year. She also is featured on Johnny Reid’s latest single, ‘Baby, I Know It’.

At next week’s CCMA Awards, she is nominated for Female Artist of the Year and will play FanFest.

In between being a devoted mother and wife, Carolyn graces us with her presence and brilliant, angelic vocals. As well she plays producer and co-writer to some of the industries finest. How she juggles it all, we may never know. But all of these reasons are what makes her TC’s September Artist of the Month.

Check out Carolyn’s Q&A with TC here.

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