Michael Johnson Photo

Father and child reunion

Forty years later, singer Michael Johnson meets his daughter - and they've both wound up in the Twin Cities.

By Jon Bream
Star Tribune
October 2, 2012

She always knew that her birth father was a professional musician.

"My best friend in high school was sure it was David Bowie," said Truly Carmichael, who was adopted at birth in Texas. Carmichael, a classically trained singer and folk-harpist, wasn't disappointed to discover that her father was Michael Johnson, the Minnesota-bred pop singer ("Bluer Than Blue," "This Night Won't Last Forever") turned country chart-topper ("Give Me Wings," "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder"). Three years ago, at age 40, Carmichael started searching for her birth parents, received information from the adoption agency and reached out to Johnson via e-mail. After several lengthy exchanges via e-mail and phone, they met and began making music together in Seattle (her living room) and Nashville (his living room). Now, she sings with him on a track on his new album, "Moonlit Déjà Vu."

"I was nervous," said Carmichael, who spurned his first two pitches to sing because she was too busy. "It was very businesslike because we don't have years of familial comfort. I didn't know if he was including me because it's nice to have your daughter on board or because he likes the way my voice sounds." "I kept saying 'less vibrato now,'" Johnson, 68, who produced the session, said in a separate interview. "She's trained as an opera singer. Finally, I said 'no vibrato,' knowing that there would be some vibrato."

"I'm really happy we did it," said Carmichael, who long ago segued from music to theatrical costume design and eventually software documentation. "It's more fun to just sit in the living room and just play music together. That's pretty remarkable." Carmichael will join Johnson for that one song, "One Mile Apart," in concert Saturday at his CD-release concert at Hopkins Center for the Arts. It will be her first concert performance in "I can't remember."

Get Johnson and Carmichael in the same room to promote the album, as they did Monday night at a private party, and, well, they seem more like uncle and niece (she is noticeably taller). A palpable bond isn't quite there yet, but they know it will happen at its own pace. That's because the father and daughter have coincidentally moved to Minneapolis. "It's pretty eerie/cool," said Carmichael, whose husband, Tim Jennings, joined Children's Theatre Company this spring as managing director. "It's kind of a wild coincidence but I'll take it." Signs pointed to Twin Cities This week, Johnson had his purchase agreement accepted on a Minneapolis condo. Several things conspired to bring him back to the Twin Cities besides the newfound daughter living here: a new contract with St. Paul's Red House Records, a new romantic interest and a new agent/manager in Michigan. Plus, he said, "more than half of the shows that I do are in the five-state area." Said Johnson: "I got stuck in my ways in Nashville. I had a good run down there, some visibility and some records."

After finding some success in middle-of-the-road pop in the 1970s, Johnson moved from Minneapolis (his home starting in 1969) to Nashville in 1985. He twice landed at No. 1 on the country singles charts but he eventually stopped recording and simply made his living on the same road circuit he'd traveled in his folk-pop days.

This year, Johnson hooked up with Red House, which is releasing "Moonlit Déjà Vu" this month. Several songs on the album seem to address his new relationship with Carmichael -- "April Fool," "Looking for Rainbows," "How Do You Know What You Know?" and the father/daughter duet, "One Mile Apart," which Johnson co-wrote.

"It was intentional but not overt," he said of the song choices. "The concept of 'One Mile Apart' is about two people who don't know each other; those people actually never meet. But Truly and I are just getting to know each other." This made-in-Minneapolis recording marks Johnson's first studio album since 1995. He recorded with some old pals, including accordionist Dan Newton, singer Maud Hixson and bassist Gordon Johnson (no relation but at whose house he stays). Even though all signs pointed him to Minneapolis, Johnson is still keeping his Nashville apartment. After all, he has one son there (a married chef) and three grandchildren. His other son is a full-time musician in Asheville, N.C.

But he's happy about being back in the Twin Cities with the opportunity to get to know his daughter, her husband and their son. "She's got a very full life. She gets as much of me as she wants; it's about her," said Johnson, noting she was the offspring of a short fling. "The life she has is much better than anything I could have given her or anything I could have wished for her. "Finding her is a big part of my life now. It's sort of like the Pinocchio story; now that she's a real girl, oddly, I feel like it's made me more whole."