Michael Johnston

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Michael Johnston
Sentimental Soul. Homegrown Stories


Under the roof of his second floor apartment, on a makeshift stage in a Slovak bar, hunched over his grandfather's baby grand piano – Michael Johnston draws inspiration from many places, and creates timeless, affecting songs.

A passionate performer and "hot young Winnipeg multi-keyboardist" (the Toronto Star), 29-year-old Johnston has opened for Barenaked Ladies and Rheostatics, and collaborated with Bob Wiseman (formerly of Blue Rodeo).  But it's his recent work as a solo artist that has been gaining attention and acclaim from fellow musicians, CBC radio and the enthusiastic crowds at his concerts.   

Johnston's full-length solo debut, "Curious Heart" - released in January 2005 - was produced with Don Kerr (Ron Sexsmith). Built around the piano, the album's 14 songs are an inspired mix of exquisite melodies, rootsy ballads, and spirited vocal harmonies.  Johnston's graceful and distinctively Canadian lyrics create engaging moods and enduring images.

" A cast of dream musicians including Maury Lafoy (Sarah Harmer), Don Rooke (Mary Margaret O'Hara), Lewis Melville (Royal City), and long-time collaborator Reid Jamieson embroider Johnston's arrangements with class and soul.

Written with a lead female vocalist in mind, Johnston invited Juno-nominee Oh Susanna to perform his ballads “Apology” and “Sunday Afternoon.” Johnston also welcomed the powerful lead vocals of Andy Maize (Skydiggers) on “The Country North of Peterborough,” and the spellbinding performance of Jamieson on “Three Days.”

Johnston grew up an only child in Peterborough, Ontario. After studying Music and English at the University of Guelph, and releasing two CDs with acoustic pop quartet "Us and Wilbur", he moved to Toronto in 1999.

In 2002, Johnston became certified as an English-as-a-second-language teacher. He took three months off, taught ESL in Bratislava, Slovakia and traveled throughout Europe. He returned to Canada with a suitcase full of new songs, and moved to Winnipeg on a VIA rail train, Valentine's Day of 2003.  

These experiences are reflected in Johnston's distinctive approach to piano playing, personal storytelling, and sincere performances. "Michael Johnston takes me on a riverboat ride to the other side" says Dave Clark (Gord Downie Band).

Since arriving to Winnipeg, Johnston has played keyboards with The Skydiggers, shared the stage with Ruth Moody (Wailin' Jennys) and collaborated with Cate Friesen.  He was the driving force behind 2003 and 2004's Boys Play Girls concerts, performing as Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Lucinda Williams, and raising money for local charitable organizations.

He also recorded on Jamieson's debut “The Unavoidable Truth” (released in 2004 on Maple Music/Universal), as well as John Southworth's 2004 album "Yosemite". 

In 2004, Johnston performed at the Folk on The Rocks festival in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and the Hillside Festival in Guelph. His song “Stars”, appears on a 2004 compilation entitled “Made In Manitoba”, along with tracks by The Weakerthans and James Keelaghan. His song "Katie" has been short-listed for the National Campus Radio Association's 2005 "Dig Your Roots" compilation. “Stars” is also sung each week by a grade 2/3 class at a public school in Winnipeg.  

How cool is that?   

"A new Canadian classic"
- Dave Ullrich
(the Inbreds)

"I was hooked from the very first song"
- Claudia Garcia de la Huerta,
Producer/Host - CBC Radio's "Big City, Small World"

"Imagine Danny Michel playing with the Rheostatics while wiggling around the stage like Pee Wee Herman...sweet, uplifting, fresh and original"
- Michael Wrycraft

"Winnipeg's favourite transplanted Torontonian finally releases his first full-length CD, and it's a sure-fire winner...Johnston's got a gift for writing a great song...will surely be a consideration for the best of 2005"
- Jeff Robson
Host - "Tell The Band To Go Home", UMFM 101.5

"Great songs, great singing, great piano, great production"
- Sam Larkin

""...delicately beautiful" "
- the Toronto Sun

" ****...folk-centric soft rock, barrelhouse roots and traditional country...Johnston's treasure trove of time-defying tunes will find many homes"
- Metro Magazine

"Haunting traditional melodies drive out from the East Coast to marry a distinctly Southern Ontario sound (think a male Sarah Harmer). Throw in some pretty Montreal-influenced arrangements (Stars, a dash of Cuff The Duke for a low-key country twang, a few chilled out West Coast guitar arrangements and a bunch of jazzy notes a la Nina Simone (OK, so she’s not Canadian, but she’s still cool) and that’s only half the album."
- Chart Magazine