"I put on my makeup and take another sip of wine/
Leave my ring on the table -- out of sight and out of mind/
Tonight I'm seeing someone that I will call my own/
It takes more than a wedding to make a house a home."
From "Undercover Lovers"; words by Sandra Johnson, music by Paul Hotchkiss. Reprinted with permission of Chatterbox Music and Moonshine Records
IT WAS THE PLIGHT of a friend, she says, that inspired Sandra Johnson to sit down in the public library and write these lyrics about adultery. She must have hit a universal chord. In two years since she first penned those lines, the song has gone from a note pad, to the top of the charts in Norway and now to a smoky bar in Georgetown, where it is being turned into a $30,000 full-scale video.
Caught up in the glamor of recent events, Johnson, an eecutive assistant at a Virginia advertising agency, observes how show business has changed her life: "This is different from making crab cakes on the weekend."
JOHNSON'S ROUTE to becoming the next Carole Bayer Sager started with the classifieds.
In a songwriters' association publication Johnson saw an ad requesting country lyrics. So she sent off "Undercover Lovers" -- then called "Friday Night Lovers." (" hook," Johnson explains. "It means subterfuge, but it also means being under a blanket.") The man who placed the advertisement wrote some music and made a demonstration tape of the song, which the new team sent to the slush piles of 70 record companies.
ENTER Andy Di Martino. Di Martino, an exuberant man with a medium-sized paunch, a strong Brooklyn accent and cowboy boots, has been in the music business for 25 years. "I've worked with the best," he says, "Lena Horne, Gogi Grant . . . "
Four years ago he decided to move to Nashville and start his own country label: Moonshine Records. "We'll give you something bettter than RCA," he says. "How many Willie Nelson records are you going to play after you've heard 'Stardust' 14 times? Am I wrong?"
Moonshine's biggest artist so far is Rex Allen Jr., but it still gets about 200 unsolicited songs a week, according to Di Martino. "Out of 2,000, I might hear four that are credible."
One of those was Sandra Johnson's. Even though Di Martino says he immediately felt that the song had possibilities, it was two years before he found the right artist to record it.
That was Kikki. Kikki is a small, unpretentious blond with a lilting accent who has earned 14 gold and three platinum albums in her native Sweden. On one of his international talent-scouting hunts, Di Martino heard some recordings by Kikki, whom he calls "The Queen of Country in Scandinavia."
With visions of latching onto the next Olivia Newton-John or Sheena Easton, Di Martino tracked down Kikki and played the demo tape of "Undercover Lovers" for her. Like Johnson herself, Kikki empathized with the lyrics -- through the experience of a friend. "I have never been in that situation. I hope I'm never going to be. I have a good friend in that same situation, so I know how she felt."
Eventually, Di Martino persuaded Kikki to come to Nashville and record an all English-language album called "Midnight Sunshine," which featured Johnson's song. Released in Scandinavia, the album reached No. 14 in Norway within two weeks. Oddly, Kikki's singing voice has about as much of a foreign accent as Crystal Gayle's. As Di Martino observes: "Her clarity is a lot clearer than Americans'."
Meanwhile, while Di Martino was making plans for Kikki's U.S. publicity blitz, Sandra Johnson was doing enough local networking to get a Nielsen rating.
ONE NIGHT Johnson and her cousin, Vicky Wasmund, were in Capricorn, a bar on Connecticut Avenue near WJLA-TV. They decided to put Kikki's rendition of Johnson's song on the sound system. The man next to them, a banker, said, "I can really understand those lyrics."
By the end of that evening the banker was making plans to help finance the film version of Johnson's song. The following week, Johnson, Wasmund and the banker were joined at the bar by Jimmy Hollingsworth, a director at WJLA.
"I listened to the song. It was easy to visualize the pictures to go with it," Hollingsworth says. Several beers later, everyone was visualizing fame and fortune.
"The rest is history," Johnson says. Well, not just yet.
A MAN with a bellows is pumping out enough essence of conifer tree gum to permeate every fiber of clothing of every person in Champions, the Georgetown bar that is the setting of the "Undercover Lovers" video. The incense is being pumped out to create a properly illicit, smoky atmosphere.
At one end of the bar is a bandstand and on it is Kikki, who, between coughing fits caused by the incense, endlessly and expertly lip- syncs the song as it comes over the speakers. At the nearest table is Sandra Johnson, who plans to be fea- tured prominently in the crowd scenes. "Yes, I'm going to be in it. That's why I'm sitting here," she says. "My mom won't believe it unless I'm in it."
It is Scene 18-B and director Jimmy Hollingsworth walks through the crowd with his microphone. "Continue to watch her sing and watch the band. If I catch someone not watching the band, you lose your seat."
The music begins. Kikki lip-syncs, "I put on my makeup and take another sip of wine . . . "
Hollingsworth yells, "Cut, cut, cut!"
He addresses the crowd: "Can you move a little?"
Someone at Johnson's table calls out, "You told us not to move!"
"Well, don't be mannequins," Hollingsworth replies.
When the music comes back up, those at Johnson's table sing along, drink beer, sway to the music and laugh as if entering the last stages of mania.
The script of the video "Undercover Lovers," with less than three minutes of exposition, is by necessity simple. A man and a woman make plans over the phone to w0224 ----- r w BC-12/02/84-KIKKI 2ndadd w0224 11-30 W22 the filming she reported that Kikki's agent said Kikki would like to do an album titled: "Kikki Sings Sandra Johnson."
"If you think that didn't thrill me!" Johnson says.
The only problem is that so far Johnson has written only three songs she is really happy with. But now that her new career is under way, inspiration is striking like a meteor shower.
"The other day I was with a girlfriend and she was talking to her husband on the phone when she said to him, 'I don't know whether to hang on or hang up.' So I wrote that down," Johnson says . . .
It's the opening shot of a video filmed somewhere on Capitol Hill. A desperate congressman's wife cries wistfully into a telephone: "I don't know whether to hang on or hang up."
Mix to Hawaiian guitar, soft piano and mellow sax . . .