In early November, I was fortunate enough to be in the audience at the Gramercy Theater, New York, for Garrett Court’s live show to launch his new album, Young Hands, Old Hands, Same Strings.
It was an amazing night of music from Garrett and, in fact, from all the musicians involved. I mean, who can resist Silver Lake’s Jake Power?
One incredible new talent to take to the stage that night was a young lady called Riley Johnson. If you weren’t lucky enough to hear Riley sing on the night, check her out online. You can’t miss her with her distinctive emerald green hair!
After a few enquiries, I managed to track this mystery songbird down and arranged to meet her for a chat. Much to my surprise, Riley suggested that we meet up at Garrett Court’s music store in Greenwich Village.
It was around lunchtime when I arrived at the store and I quickly spotted Riley behind the cash desk. Seeing that she was busy with a customer I took a few minutes to browse the various instruments on display. If you’re in the market for a new guitar, you could do worse than drop by. Garrett’s Store is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave!
Eventually, Riley was free. At her suggestions we headed to a nearby diner to chat over lunch. (I’ll not lie- I was disappointed not to be invited up into the infamous Gothic Palace above the store.)
Sandwiches and coffees ordered, we settled ourselves at a secluded corner table.
“So, Riley, tell me how you came to be appearing on stage last November with the legendary Garrett Court?”
“A combination of luck and a lot of help from Dr Marrs and Jake,” she revealed quietly. Up close Riley is younger than she appears on stage and is a rather shy young lady.
“That’s some pretty big names. Tell me more.”
“Back home, I took a summer school music workshop last summer,” began Riley. Despite her youth, Riley has an amazingly warm husky voice. “Jake was the teacher and, as part of the workshop, he took us out to JJL to record the songs we’d written. There were ten of us. That’s where I met Dr Marrs and Garrett. Garrett helped out for a day while we were in the studio.” Pausing to take a bite out of her sandwich, Riley continued, “A couple of weeks later, I got a call from Dr Marrs asking if I’d like to sing some vocals for Garrett’s record. Trust me, he didn’t need to ask me twice. I jumped at the opportunity. The following week I spent a couple of days out at JJL recording some stuff. It was just Dr Marrs, me and the sound engineer. No Garrett. I recorded four or five songs over the two days. One made it onto the record.”
“Which one was that?”
“Black Heart Dark Mind.”
“Then I guess it was Garrett who invited you along to perform at the show at the Gramercy?”
“No,” revealed Riley with a smile. “It was Jake who set that up. He was up here helping Garrett out. They needed a vocalist and Garrett mentioned some “green haired girl” that had sung on the record. Up til then I don’t think Jake even knew I’d been involved with the album. He recognised me from Garrett’s description. Reached out through my high school principal and, well, here I am.” The teenager giggled. I must say, Riley has a very infectious laugh.
“And now you’re working in the music store?” I enquired, curious to learn the full story here.
“Not so much working as helping out,” Riley replied a little evasively. She paused then said softly, “It’s complicated.”
“Things at home weren’t great,” continued Riley, keeping her head bowed. “When Jake called to invite me up here, I grabbed the opportunity. I saw it as my chance for a fresh start. I talked to Garrett. Explained my situation and we reached an agreement. He’s agreed I can stay on at the Gothic Palace, arranged for me to finish up school here. He was real strict about that part. In turn, I help out in the store. I’ll also be going on tour with him later this month.”
“I assume Rehoboth Beach was home? Why couldn’t you go back there?”
“That’s personal. I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Apologies. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“You’re a journalist. It’s your job to pry.”
Riley is a very astute young woman. Changing the subject, I asked, “How is it living with a music legend?”
“Quiet,” giggled Riley. “Garrett is a creature of habit. You could set your watch by him. He’s happy for me to stay but there are a few golden house rules. It’s kind of cool living there though.”
“And what about Jake? Are you still in touch with him?”
“Yes! He’s been awesome. So has his wife. I spent Thanksgiving with them at the beach. They treated me like family.”
“So, would you say Jake was your mentor?”
“Definitely,” Riley replied without hesitation. “I’m going back to stay with him this summer. He talked to Dr Marrs and I’m booked into JJL to record some stuff. The hope is we can pull together an EP or something. We’ll see where that goes.”
“So what does the immediate future hold for you. What’s next?”
“After the tour later this month, I need to focus on finishing school. One of the conditions of staying in New York with Garrett is that I maintain a B+ grade average and graduate from high school.”
“Sounds like a sensible condition. You’re in sensible hands there.”
“Oh, I am!” Riley gushed. “Garrett is more strict with me than my Dad ever was. Jake also keeps a close eye on my grades.”
“And where do you see yourself a year from now?”
“Singing, playing and writing music,” replied Riley before draining the last of her coffee.
“Thanks for your time today.”
“And thanks for lunch. This has been fun.”
I walked Riley back across to the music store. As we walked and talked, she let slip that Garrett was also giving her music lesson and that she had an essay to finish for her History class.
This young rising star is somewhat of an enigma. On the one hand, she’s a very confident musician then on the other, she’s a normal teenage girl fretting about her homework assignment. If she puts as much dedication into her studies as she did into her performance last year on stage at the Gramercy Theater then she should have no issues maintaining and exceeding that B+ grade average.
Details of Garrett Court’s forthcoming tour are available on his website and tickets are on sale now. I’ve already got my ticket and strongly advise you to grab yours before these shows sell out.
(images sourced via Google – credits to the owners)