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Music Row: featuring Mallory Johnson

Mallory Johnson has been nominated for the Ron Hynes SOCAN Songwriter of the Year for her song “Drunk Mind, Sober Heart”, and as The Telegram Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year. The winners will be announced during MusicNL week Feb 1-7th. – © ALYSSA BARKER

By J. RENE ROY

NASHVILLE, TN – Even though she has left the island of Newfoundland for the honky-tonks of Nashville, Tennessee, Mallory Johnson still comes back home to the Codroy Valley every year. The versatile musician, singer, songwriter, and actress was pretty much stranded here for a while last year.

“I was home from March of 2020, until the end of October,” said Johnson via telephone interview on Friday, Jan. 16.

“I was originally supposed to go on tour, to do the Reklaws Arts and Culture Center run, followed by a coast to coast radio tour. So I flew home, and a day or two later, everything was being postponed or cancelled. The Reklaws is still in the books. I’m not sure when exactly that’s happening.”

Johnson doesn’t see her unanticipated Newfoundland staycation as a bad thing. Instead, she calls it a blessing in disguise, since it allowed her new opportunities in the way of spontaneous collaborations, and a chance to write new music with friends and family.

“It was so nice, and so much fun to just get creative with friends.”

Johnson has a solid family pedigree when it comes to music. The Cormiers are still beloved on the entire east coast of Canada, having toured Scotland and North America. She was already fairly accomplished by the time she was on tour with her mother, Loretta, her Uncle Gordon, and her cousin, Randall.

She sang the national anthems at the Air Canada Center, as well as at the Maple Leaf Gardens at the age of 8, making her the youngest to do so. She wrote her first song at the age of 11.

Now back in Nashville, Johnson has a busy schedule despite the limitations of a global pandemic that has hit the USA hard.

“Next week I’m going to be going back into the studio, and I’ll be recording a new album.”

This will be Mallory Johnson’s first full-length solo album, having previously released an EP of six songs. The new album is being produced by Kent Wells, who has also produced for Dolly Parton. She pauses when asked about a possible release date, since work is just beginning, but hopes it doesn’t get held back too long.

Johnson has been surrounded by big names since she moved down to Nashville, starting with manager Sammy Kershaw.

After winning a Newfoundland-wide singing competition, a judge reached out to Kershaw in 2015. Kershaw checked out some of Johnson’s Youtube videos and immediately advised her to move to Nashville, and that he wanted to manage her.

“This was my Cinderella ‘pinch me’ moment. I mean, I just played three songs at a local pub, and now I’m in the Grand Ole Opry with my mom, watching Rascal Flatts, and Sammy Kershaw calls me to tell me to go to bed early because I’m singing in the morning!” She laughs at the memory, calling it “wild” and a “whole new experience”.

Johnson is still getting her fair share of new experiences.

“One of the gals on my management team, Cathy Nakos, said, ‘Do you want to audition for a movie’, and I said, ‘Well why not?’”

Despite not attempting to do the Southern accent that was required for the reading, Johnson brought her guitar to the audition, and was asked to do a little singing.

It was just a day or two later that she was told they were writing a part for her in the film, as long as she sang.

“I went to Knoxville for two days, did some filming, and wrote a couple of songs for them, so I’m glad I wasn’t left on the cutting room floor!”

“Into the Wilderness”, directed by Richard De Witt, has not yet been released.

Johnson’s career has continued to climb steadily, from playing music with her family, all the way to making a movie. She cites Celtic music as a favourite inspiration, and says it’s not difficult to hear the similarities between the Honky-Tonks of Tennessee and the folk bands of Newfoundland.

“The genres of both compliment each other so well, because the root of both of them is storytelling. They use a lot of the same instrumentation.”

Johnson says she has reached heights she never thought possible.

“This was always my dream. You definitely always have those faraway goals that you hope you reach. Ever since coming to Nashville and having that whole experience, I never really write anything off. Any dream I put on my vision board, now I think, thats not too big of a dream.”

Johnson’s current goals are to play the Grand Ole Opry and, “Obviously a record deal would be nice, a publishing deal, all those things.”

She still enjoys her Newfoundland roots. Johnson plans to take part in a Cormier reunion live on Zoom on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

“I’m interested to see how its going to go. I’m excited!”

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