This Is What I Learned Today…


Janiva In The Studio

There is this thing… I always have and always will be a Daddy’s girl. Now to be accurate it is also true to say that there were more times than not, that I was terrified of my father. He was a tall, powerful, complex and complicated Southern charmer who grappled with his own inner demons. He died when I was just 16 which is definitely too young for any child to lose a parent.

I am profoundly grateful we had come around to the beginnings of forgiveness with each other just three months before he died, because it helped to change everything. I could go on (and on) about that relationship, but I don’t want to lose focus on the reason I’m bringing this up right now…

Please just believe me when I say, I was definitely a Daddy’s girl. I will love him always. Even in spite of his flaws and imperfections. He was terribly and beautifully human.

Janiva and her dad

Anyway, every evening the whole family would sit around the dinner table – my father seated strategically at the head of the table (of course). With this big boomy voice and huge brown lasers for eyes (and for reasons I never understood) he would ask ME the exact same question, each and every night: “What did YOU learn in school TODAY?

Each and every time he popped that question I was struck frozen with fear. Then my mind would quickly go blank, as if a giant eraser appeared from nowhere and wiped my brain clean of any data or experience whatsoever, right in that split second. It was a chronic moment. The whole table would fall silent and turn their glares at me. I could rarely form a word in those sweaty snapshots, let alone speak. It was torture each time. I learned early on to never just shrug my shoulders and utter the classic, “Uhhh, I dunno…” of a petulant child. It only made matters worse and would always encourage one of my siblings to start teasing me. So instead I would just shut down like a cold sweaty clam. That never went terribly well either.

I know it sounds like a scene from a retro TV show about a family in the 1960’s and it kind of was – although life back then included a lot more reality than any of us ever cared for.

So here’s my point to all that back story. It has taken me THIS long to finally have the answer to that question my father queried for 16 years. That perfect answer is now crystal clear to me. That same answer also happens to be the inspiration behind my new soon-to-be-released album, and no… I ain’t foolin’.

So drumroll please… Here it is: I GET TO BE HAPPY. I ACTUALLY get to be happy. I get to have a happy life. Have a happy 3rd or 4th quarter of my life – who knows how long really? I get to have love and hold joy. To hold happy and even celebrate that. To learn to actually trust the experience of happy.

After all this time I finally figured out the answer Dad.

Now we all know everyone has a story. Several of you may already be acquainted with parts of mine, some of which were the difficult and painful early years of my life. I’m not into sugar coating it and life hasn’t always been easy.
Abuse, violence, depression, addiction, suicide, homelessness, institutions and more. It is true… I have all the Jerry Springer material.

Thank God it was not the END of my story as it is for so many others. I also know today part of the way to help it make sense is to speak about the journey.

But here’s the thing. I also have always had music to somehow help get me through it. I’ve always been amazed and grateful for the fact that I’ve been blessed with an obsession that eventually became a career… doing the thing I love most; the thing it seems I was put on this planet to do.

With every pothole I hit or brick wall that I ran into in life, I would pour myself into the music, thru singing and now the songwriting. When life threw a curve ball (several) at me I would redirect all that heartache, rage, and sorrow into the songs. That is not an unusual formula for an artist as it turns out. Ok fine then.

Looking back I can honestly say that my first eleven albums and the vast majority of my forty plus years making music has circled around that theme; Exercising the beast, so to speak.

I have long known that I am great in a crisis, exceptional company in the trenches, and I know that I am someone you want on your side when the shit hits the fan. HOWEVER – and as funny as it might sound – dealing with the “good things coming my way” has always been a battle for me; It was just a suit of clothes that I never quite understood how to wear; That suit I long thought was fit for another, but never for me.

When I was much younger I would walk away from good people and good things. Or simply drive them away. I couldn’t understand them, and so I never trusted them. Feeling “good” was foreign to me unless it was under the aid of some serious chemicals, preferably illegal and often.

SO this idea of peace, acceptance, happiness, joy, or love has long been an inner battle for me and frightened me like nothing else ever had.

Right. Then comes this business of writing. It is like an unveiling…

First came my memoir. The telling of the tale of my life, in book form. An idea that I was both taunted and haunted by for most of my life. I kept trying to shut it up. Shut it off. Oh that’s a bad idea – just go away and leave me in peace with my secrets. In other words just fuck off. In hindsight it seems in part at least, this was my subconscious raising the white flag of surrender.

Serendipitously ($10.00 word…) the beginning of the work on the memoir was followed by a nudge from my amazing producer, Dave Darling, to start writing my own songs. He made it sound like smart business for an artist, and I know it is. Collaborating with other songwriters, which was something I had not done much in my long career. Ok… Risk was taken and an effort that the universe seemed to reward when he and I soon won “Song of the Year” with “I Won’t Cry” from the Alligator release, “Stronger For It”.

All of this culminated in taking the biggest leap of my professional life, with the release of my last album, ORIGINAL. A further departure from a more traditional blues sound, and consisting of entirely original compositions, I was forced to walk away from Alligator Records (the world’s largest blues label) and put the album out on my very own label, Fathead Records.

Now when I say forced, I mean forced by the clarity of what MUST be done. Know what I mean? When the obvious choice is… well… obvious!

With the help of FANS LIKE YOU, that album debut at #5 on the Billboard Blues chart and climbed to #1 at Blues radio for the whole summer. It danced around in the top #5 slots of a bunch of different radio charts week after week and crossed genres like no other release under my name …ever!

That album succeeded entirely due to fan support and cheering me on. I learned that YOU are “the net”! I was truly humbled by its success and watching it unfold really was stunning to me.

Then oddly, the release of Original seems to have sparked this sort of avalanche over time… Like this chain reaction of happiness started in my life.

How weird.

Then that was followed by the production of a musical based on my life, a new recording contract for Fathead to be an imprint on a strong new indie label – Blue Élan Records. They wanted to grant me the creative freedom I craved, and last but certainly not least, I got married to a super talented English Bluesman I had originally met thru FB (believe it or not). The energy between us and the common core of life experiences and sheer “never-give-up-edness” would not be denied. Once again… There was the “obvious choice thing”– this time for both of us. Either follow the future or stay tethered to the bondage of the past.

We followed.

Right! So, all of this has found its place in my soon-to-be-released album, “LOVE WINS AGAIN” which is truly a celebration of happy. Like I said in the album’s liner notes, no one is more shocked by its manifestation than me.

And by way of explanation, it seems this particular Blog post is simply testament to how I could have 11 records released based in large, on the tap root of what we know traditional or contemporary Blues to be – the struggle, the anger and the losses of the human condition today. Then turned around and release a record primarily about love, joy and happiness. Obviously it was not that short of a process but it is in short, the truth of the matter.

Yeah, so the new album will officially be released on April 8th (just a few weeks from now), and pre-orders just became available this morning right here.

As my way of THANKING YOU for your support, anyone who pre-orders “Love Wins Again” before April 8th, will get an autographed copy of the album as well as THREE UNRELEASED tracks that aren’t available ANYWHERE else. You can find all the details here. Needless to say, your support is GREATLY appreciated.

This album marks a true and beautiful turning point in my life. It marks the learning of an important lesson that it seems, was very hard won. “Love Wins Again” is that lesson captured. As a result of the writing, the bleeding, the unraveling of the tale and the telling of MY truth… I have been set free. Imperfect – certainly. Humanly – of course. All the same, FREE in a way which I have never been before.

Love Wins Again album

So, there it is – I finally get it. Why my father would always ask me what I had learned each day, in that daunting way of his. In hindsight, I think in his way he was trying to get me to take inventory of my life. To seek my truth. He always said to me “the truth will set you free”.

In my case that freedom is inside of me. The freedom from personal bondage. After all this long time, I’ve finally learned that love is not to be feared, it’s to be held, celebrated, reciprocated and yes… embraced.

…totally wild right? Yeah, I think so.

If Dad was to sit down with me today, after all this time, I finally have the answer to that million dollar question…

…what I learned in school today, is that I actually get to be happy. That is a big deal. Thanks for asking me Dad.

I like to think he would flash that big Southern smile at me in approval (and somehow I think he actually may be grinnin’ at me right now).

Thanks for taking the time to travel along with me and read all this.

I’m actually on tour as I write, and the Band and the van are waiting… Gotta run for now, we are driving 400+ miles today…