“I quit piano lessons at age 12 when my teacher insisted that I learn classical music. Earlier that year I saw the Beatles movie Help on TV and I knew then without question that that was what I wanted to do with my life.” Jeff and Randy began writing songs together with the goal of making it big in the music business. What followed were several years of the brothers playing in various bands culminating with the late 1980s band Chalk Farm which found success in the Chicago club scene, headlining at the legendary Cabaret Metro and Park West among other venues. After Chalk Farm broke up at the end of the decade, Jeff came to Los Angeles and found success as a dance music artist in the mid 1990s with two club hits – his own song “Whenever You’re Lonely” and a dance cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” (which appeared on over 30 compilation albums in Asia).
Both singles were released on his own Interhit Records label founded along with his partner remixer/producer Chris Cox. Though running Interhit left him little time to pursue his music career, he did find time to write songs for Engelbert Humperdinck’s Dance Album (1998) and to co-write “Try Me” for Japanese artist Mylin which appeared on her Beautiful album (1999). Over the next nine years, Jeff ran label/distributor Megahit Records, as his music career became a distant memory. But that all changed in late 2008 when Jeff stumbled upon the master tapes from the long-forgotten Songs From The Suburbs album that he and his brother Randy recorded in their parents’ living room in the 1980s.
Convinced that the time had come to give this project the release that it deserved, Jeff set about to mix the album at a local LA studio. It was during the mixing process that Jeff found himself once again as a songwriter and singer. “I had a vision of myself as a recording artist,” says Jeff. “From mixing the songs my brother and I had written and recorded more than 20 years ago, I saw who I could be and should be as an artist.
It was like flipping on a light switch.” Over the next three months, Jeff wrote 20 new songs (after writing only one complete song in the previous 10 years). “I realized that my desire to get something released when I first came to LA led to me losing sight of who I am as an artist. I was trying to sound like other popular artists at that time to get attention, but in the process losing myself,” says Jeff. “I felt impelled to record these new songs and I knew I would find the right people to help me realize my vision.” Singer Jean McClain (aka Pepper Mashay) who sang backgrounds on several Interhit releases proved to be key in leading Jeff to the talented group of musicians who appear on Shine.
The lead background singer of R&B legend Bobby Caldwell’s touring band, Jean introduced Jeff to other members of Caldwell’s band – drummer Johnny Friday and guitarist Carlyle Barriteau who both appear on Shine. Johnny brought in bassist Reggie McBride who suggested to Jeff that he contact guitarist Carmen Grillo who owned the recording studio in Encino, CA where Shine was eventually recorded. After working well together for a few months, Jeff invited Carmen to become co-producer of Shine. Carmen arranged sessions with renown horn players Greg Adams, Michael Paulo and Lee Thornburg, as well as organist Joey Navarro which added to the stellar lineup of musicians playing on Shine.
Jean McClain brought in Marcellina Hawthorne and both handled background vocals while Carmen brought in Alex Wurmbrand, Paul Henning, Alwyn Wright and Maxim Velichkin to lend their talents on strings. Both Jeff and Carmen spent several weeks honing the string arrangements. “All of the sessions were very harmonious and very creative,” says Jeff. “We all put a lot of effort into perfecting the sound and feel of each song.
It was a pleasure to work with such talented professionals.” On Shine, Jeff lends his distinctive voice to songs of love and loss, hope and sorrow, aspiration and acceptance, with the ultimate message that we all have our own unique role to fill – we all can shine. From the hopeful exuberance of “Time To Believe” to the soaring heartbreak of “The Promise” to the straight ahead rock of “Old Enough To Know” to the self-empowering, uplifting “Shine” to the tender emotion of “More Than You Know” to the jazzy, Bacharach-esque “Lovers & Strangers” to the haunting and powerful “Is It All To Late,” Shine reveals a recording artist of depth and formidable talent. “I wanted Shine to be an album people would listen to 20 years from now,” says Jeff. “I wanted a timeless sound and I believe we achieved it.” With the release of Shine, Jeff Johnson looks forward to a bright future with unlimited possibilities.
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