These words could not be more true, as the troubled childhood of Karen Michelle Johnston, the daughter of a carpenter, resulted in her mother committing her to a psychiatric hospital twenty-something years later. Shocked’s stage name dates back to the name she gave when arrested in 1984 at a protest for fair housing during the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, California. Her nickname was ‘Chel, so Michelle Shocked was a play on words intended to resemble the phrase “shell shocked”. The front cover of her (possibly) best-known album, "Short Sharp Shocked," shows her restrained by the chokehold of a San Francisco policeman in a supposedly authentic photograph of this incident.
Shocked is known musically for her “style-shifting,” a concept that put her at odds with Mercury Records in the mid-nineties. After a long, arduous legal battle between her and the company, she eventually left the label to start her own company, Mighty Sound.
2005 was a big year for the now happily independent artist. She released three new albums on the same day in June; the group of new recordings are called “Threesome,” a series of producer collaborations, continuing the “American Trilogy” concept of her first three Mercury albums. Each of the CD’s is completely different from the others; in typical Shocked style, each project explores a different musical genre, and is geared to a different audience. The first, "Got No Strings" is a Western swing twist on Disney songs produced by Nick Forster (Hot Rize, ETown.) For young and old alike, the album was a collaboration with Disney artist (now boyfriend David Willardson. "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is a rock album, full of guitar and guts, produced by Dusty Wakeman (Dwight Yoakam, Anne McCue.) Early comparisons have been drawn to Richard Thompson’s "Shoot Out the Lights" with the chromatic eclecticism of an album like Los Lobos’ "Kiko". The third CD, "Mexican Standoff" is ‘Border Americana,’ Shocked’s unique tribute to both her Latin and Texas roots. Grounded in the blues tradition that infuses all of her work, it squares off with the influences of her adapted home, Los Angeles. ‘You know more Spanish than you think you do,’ is how she accounts for the showdown between the Texas blues on one side and the ‘Spanglish’ stories she weaves on the other.
The versatile Shocked’s multiple styles are based in jazz, folk, swing and gospel, and her lyrics are anything but traditional: “When I grow up I want to be an old woman / when I grow up I want to be an old woman / an old, old, old woman / Then I think I’m gonna find myself an old man / then I think I’m gonna marry myself that old man / a really, really old man / We’re gonna have a hundred and twenty babies / a hundred and fuckin’ fifteen, twenty babies / that’s what I said, a hundred and twenty babies.” - Michelle Shocked / “When I Grow Up.”