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North Meets South: The phrase alone stirs up a curious sort of dichotomy, a culture clash that, in the end, somehow pieces together brilliantly. It’s a fitting name for the acoustic duo of Joie Sherman and John Johnson, seeming opposites who combine to create an intoxicating musical brew that defies easy classification.
Joie is from Fargo, North Dakota, and John hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but their respective worlds were separated by more than a matter of miles (840, in case you were curious). Joie grew up an ardent student of music, her influences ranging from Judy Collins and ABBA to the Andrews Sisters. John’s musical awakening came when he heard Stevie Ray Vaughn on the car radio in his mom’s ’68 Mustang.
Yet North Meets South blends the pair’s musical sensibilities into something altogether unique and mesmerizing. It’s chugging folk-rock and whiskey-sodden Americana, backwoods country and blistering blues. Most of all, North Meets South knows how to burrow into your soul. On stage and off, John and Joie just – excuse the cliché, but sometimes the cliché fits – make beautiful music together.
Even their covers manage to be original. The duo’s repertoire is as diverse as it is ambitious: Johnny Cash, Gnarls Barkley, Bob Marley, Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and others. These are not cover versions that mimic. Bolstered by John’s driving guitar and Joie’s knockout vocals, North Meets South digs into the marrow of a song to let you experience it in a way you maybe hadn’t before.
“We think there’s a grit and bite to our sound that separates us from the stereotypical acoustic duo,” says John. “We make a lot of noise for one guitar and a female vocalist.”
And about that singer: Joie’s powerhouse voice echoes of some greats — Janis Joplin, Dusty Springfield and Gillian Welch come to mind — but her vocal command is uniquely her own, imbued with a heart-wrenching, old-school soulfulness that belies her 25 years.
John and Joie met when both were attending college at the University of Oklahoma. John, an International Studies major, had taken an elective in musical theatre to keep from Chinese Mandarin overload. It was there he met Joie. John was smitten; he had planned to ask for her phone number the day of the final, but he didn’t expect Joie to wrap up the test early and cut out after only 15 minutes. Several months later, John happened to be outside the university library when he saw Joie walk by. This time, he didn’t let opportunity slip by.
Now a fixture on the Washington, DC, music scene, Joie and John took very different routes to arrive at North Meets South. For Joie, music was an integral part of growing up. At age 14, she belted out “River Deep, Mountain High” at a summer performing arts program and wowed the crowd. It offered a glimpse of what would follow. Joie devoted herself to music and eventually earned a musical theatre scholarship to OU. While at college, she was a soloist with the Oklahoma Philharmonic, performed with Broadway ingénue Kelli O’Hara and earned rave reviews as the legendary Patsy Cline in “Always, Patsy Cline.”
John’s first instrument was a trumpet. In high school, he fell for jazz, particularly the bebop of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, before taking up the guitar his sophomore year. His dedication to the guitar became a passion, and he developed an amalgamation of styles and techniques that encompassed Chet Atkins, the Carter Family and Metallica. Yes, you read that correctly.