Before Norman music duo North Meets South were married they were in a long distance relationship based in Beijing, China and New York, N.Y. Vocalist Joie Sherman Johnson wrote a new song and sent it to her sweetheart John Johnson every day.
“I came back from China after two years there to be with Joie,” he said.
She had been a musical theatre major at the University of Oklahoma with her sights set on Broadway.
“After a while I realized New York wasn’t for me in terms of long term commitment,” Joie said.
John repatriated with a job at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in Washington D.C.
“And I ended up switching gears, getting a job there too with the NY Stock Exchange at their government relations office,” Joie said.
They began writing songs together in D.C. and stayed for three years.
Playing gigs along the Eastern seaboard crystallized the goal for them of being full-time musicians.
“Our first gig was at the Cowboy Café,” she said.
Located in Virginia, the joint touts itself as “North Arlington’s Finest Watering Hole.” North Meets South invested in an agent, signing with James Turner Productions of Alexandria who has been representing musicians since 1976.
“We were working a lot,” John said.
Then for several reasons North Meets South decided to move west back to Norman. Joie’s a Fargo, N.D., native and John grew up in Tulsa but Norman is a spiritual home for both. John had attended OU too.
“The quality of life in Norman is awesome,” Joie said. “The people here are friendly and there are great things going on musically. We were following things even when away and saw that John Fullbright was getting some momentum.”
Tulsa, Minneapolis, Nashville and Austin were all considered but they came home to Norman. North Meets South reckoned that this place would be more conducive to songwriting than the other towns.
Since establishing themselves here, North Meets South have booked gigs at showcases diverse as Norman Music Festival, the Midway Concert Series and recently opening for noted singer/songwriter Shawn Mullins at Sooner Theatre. They’ve been playing Oklahoma’s finest watering holes too and now are occupying the regular early Wednesday evening slot at The Deli.
“Expect an eclectic set of original and cover songs,” Joie said.
North Meets South have been asking patrons to write down a song from any genre on a slip of paper they’d like the duo to learn and play. One song is selected randomly from a jar each week and becomes their assignment for the next show.
“We did a Michael Jackson medley Americana-style,” Joie said. “We want to make whatever song it is our own.”
Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness” are a couple of the submissions they’ve done. That’s highly approachable pop and scary industrial/ heavy metal they’ve taken to task. Roses to North Meets South for accepting these unique listener-oriented challenges.
Joie sings and John plays guitar. They harmonize vocals frequently.
“We’re not really a vocal duo,” she said. “I don’t play during shows but my instrument is piano. We’d like to incorporate piano into future shows.”
North Meets South have been working on their first LP with engineer Wes Sharon at 115 Recording Studio in Norman for the past 14 months.
“Wes has a golden ear,” John said. “The guy just hears things in our songs. He’ll be like another band member when this is done.”
Sharon has been adept at exploiting Joie’s vocal techniques from her musical theatre education
“Those two are working at a very high level together,” John said. “They’re going for perfection. It’s not just ‘come sing your song,’ it’s ‘let’s do this as well as it can possibly be done.’”
Joie has the admirable ability to turn the twang in her voice on and off. She can sing hayseed as Gotebo or refined as opera singer Marilyn Horne.
“Joie can sound like a British girl if she wants to,” John said.
Not surprisingly with a young couple married only three years, their original songbook leans heavily toward relationship-oriented material.
“They’re not love songs for the most part,” John said.
They’re observers of people and collaborate later writing about those they’ve encountered. North Meets South have mined what they termed “colorful family histories,” condensing and combining characters from their lives. Personal experience in far flung parts of the world undoubtedly contribute to this and help make listening to North Meets South’ songs a delight.
If You Go
What: North Meets South in concert.
Where: McNellies, 121 E. Main St. and The Deli, 309 White St.
When: McNellies, 9 p.m. May 9 and The Deli 7-9 p.m. every Wednesday
North Meets South playing Norman Music Festival 2014.