Sometimes it’s the hardest things in life that need to be worked out in a song.
Vernon singer-songwriter-musician Betty Johnson relates this lesson through her new CD, Saving My Heart, which she is releasing Saturday with a bunch of her musical friends and colleagues.
It was her musical family in the Okanagan who helped saved Johnson’s heart after she went through major life changes between recording her debut album of original material, Water Ring, five years ago and the release of her current album.
She suffered through the deaths of her husband, mother and nephew all in that time.
“I had been working on this project for the last three years, but sometimes life has its own plan for you,” said Johnson, who wrote the material that appears on Saving My Heart before, during and after the tragedies happened.
“It’s a very cleansing CD for me… It’s about life’s tests. It was hard, but I have my dignity and I keep going.”
Johnson is also mourning the loss of a place she considered a haven for songwriters and artists as herself.
A three-time alumnus of the annual songwriters intensive workshop put on by Bill Henderson and Roy Forbes, Johnson says she is saddened that the workshop’s home, the George Ryga Centre, has been put up for sale by the Ryga Centre Society due to lack of funds to keep it going.
“I got to hone my skills at the Ryga Centre program and I am sad the centre is being sold,” she said. “What a pleasure it was to work with Roy Forbes and Bill Henderson one on one. They are a wealth of talent.
“They helped me with gathering the tools and learning the skills to get my songs out there. It gave me the same perspective on life. That’s what songwriting is; you are aware of what you want to say, but it comes out better in a song.”
Johnson also made some new musical friends with the recording of Saving My Heart.
Kelowna producer Andrew Smith not only contributed his engineering skills, but his musical know-how as an award-winning songwriter as well as a celebrated tap-style guitarist.
“He is a great musician and writer… His son Zachari is equally talented and they will both be opening for me at the CD release,” said Johnson. “We did one getting-to-know-you track in the studio, and immediately thought, we really do like each other. “
The album’s other 11 tracks flowed from there.
One of them, Wildflowers, was actually recorded at Vernon musician/producer Betty Anne Northup’s East Hill recording studio. (Smith recorded his part for the song at his studio.)
“We have a Betty Anne connection as my name is actually Betty Ann, but people started calling me Betty years ago,” laughed Johnson, adding, “There’s an underground of artists who live here and have love and respect for each other.”
Johnson adds that sentiment to local guitarist-songwriter Chris Madsen, who gave her the song Steppin’ Out, which is on the album. It’s about a woman who steps out for a night without a care in the world.
“It’s sort of fitting, I think,” said Johnson.
Johnson is steppin’ out in fine musical fashion for her CD release party, which includes a who’s who of local musical guests, including Neil Fraser on guitar, Bill Lockie on stand-up bass, Northup on keys, Larry Crawford on sax and clarinet, with special guests Andrew and Zachari Smith.
Local singer/author John Lent will be master of ceremonies.
Saturday’s Saving My Heart CD release party takes place at the Vernon Public Art Gallery, 3228-31st Ave., at 7 p.m. Appetizers and delicious sounds will be served. Tickets are $20, available from the Bean Scene or at the door.