Originally published on May 3, 2021 at Niagara Falls Review
There are detours. There are left turns. And then there are changes so out of nowhere, John Grenn can’t help but laugh.
How, he’s asked, does a former dance music producer with no intention of ever having kids turn into a country musician? Writing songs about his kid?
“I know, it’s kind of crazy,” he says. “The only thing is, I come from a background of recording and being involved in all kinds of music, from blues to jazz. It’s less foreign than it sounds, it’s just, I had my success with EDM.”
The John Grenn you likely know was one-half of the Yakoo Boyz, whose 1995 hit “Pipe Dreamz” became a favourite in hockey arenas everywhere. The John Grenn he turned into just released the country tune “Biggest Part of Me,” inspired by his 12-year-old daughter Isis. Half of the song’s proceeds will go towards Children’s Mental Health Ontario.
With vocals by Josh Gallagher — a runner-up in Season 11 of “The Voice” — the single is the first of several country songs Grenn has planned over the upcoming year. He’s doing a full court press on country radio, including Welland’s Country 89 CKYY.
Grenn says his change in direction stems from a life that didn’t exactly go as planned.
“The song’s written about my daughter and becoming a dad unexpectedly late in life,” he says. “I was always one of those individuals who was never going to have kids.”
Turns out, having a daughter was just what he needed after a life of turbulence. His father was a manic depressive and his mother had addiction issues. His first wife suffered with schizophrenia, a battle which drained him: “It’s one of those things that’ll take a normal person down with it, unfortunately.”
With his second wife, Grenn reconsidered having kids. Working for BlackBerry in Waterloo at the time, he felt the time was right. His daughter was born in 2009, when he was 41. Turns out, fatherhood suited him.
“I just kind of naturally fell into it and was good at it,” he says. “My daughter and I became very close, very quickly.”
There were more bumps to come. Both his job and second marriage came to an end, prompting him to move to Niagara to start over. It was here, holed up in lockdowns, that he revived his music career.
A chance to also help kids deal with their mental health was a bonus, he says.
“Mental health is something that has affected my life for so long and so profoundly that I really want to do anything and to help raise awareness and raise money for them.”
There’s also more urgency as youth continue dealing with a pandemic upending their lives.
“This is hard for kids to get their head around,” he says. “The fact it just seems to carry on in perpetuity … it can be tough on everybody but certainly the kids.
“I look back on the childhood I had and how much simpler things were. You just weren’t thinking of all these complicated problems and issues at such a young age. That’s got to take a toll.”