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Steph Johnson


Steph Johnson
Courtesy photo

I first heard Steph Johnson sing at a barbeque. My husband and I were sitting by the pool, having a beer, when we looked over and saw a guitar case covered with stickers. I caught my husband’s eye and I knew what we were both thinking…Oh God, someone brought their guitar, I hope we can make it out of here before the 'jam session' starts!”

While contemplating our escape, we struck up a conversation with a woman wearing cut off shorts revealing a belly button ring. She was tall, substantial, friendly and outgoing. She wore her hair in pigtails and was sporting a very small bikini top, the fabric barely holding everything in. It wasn’t until our host asked her to “sing a little something,” that we realized she was the owner of the guitar and now we were stuck.

To our great relief and surprise, this woman had a good voice--deep and soulful. It was difficult to believe the voice coming out of this person belonged to this white girl. “I get that a lot,” she says.

Based on the groups that got their start in San Diego, (blink 182, POD, Unwritten Law, Buck’o’Nine, Rocket From the Crypt and the Beat Farmers) it seems to me that San Diego is a pretty masculine and not very “ethnic” scene.

Steph Johnson has struggled as a result of being different, but she’s getting more and more work in San Diego. Her first CD, Genesee, was nominated by the San Diego Music Awards for Best Local Recording in 2006.

George Varga of Sign On San Diego has said: “It’s like she’s channeling the soul greats.”

I heard her sing again at the Gay Pride Festival in Balboa Park. Ironically, she was asked to play at the Ebony Stage. “I have an admission. I’m not black,” she announced to the predominantly African-American audience. In an interview, she was asked what artists she’d take to a deserted island. She mentioned Mishell Ndegeocello, Jill Scott, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and Phobe Snow.

Sheph’s life is in flux. She recently quit her safe job at the bank. She is working on a second CD, moving to a new apartment near the beach, ending an old relationship, and enjoying sober life. Her calendar is filled with many jobs—Onyx Room, Belly Up, San Diego Music Awards in Viejas.

It’s cool to see the beginning of someone’s career andwatch their fearless flight into the unknown.