There's no mistaking Johnny Irion's unique pedigree -- his granduncle is literary giant John Steinbeck and his father-in-law is folksinger Arlo Guthrie -- but the South Carolina native gained a following on the strength of his own music, fronting several bands as a teenager before morphing into a country-folk artist as an adult. In 1993, at the tender age of 15, he formed Queen Sarah Saturday, a melodic band whose music predated the poppy, twangy, psychedelic Southern rock of future groups like My Morning Jacket. The group signed a record deal with Thirsty Ear, Sony Music's alternative label at the time, and issued a handful of releases. Although the song "Seems" attracted some national attention after appearing in the motion picture Empire Records, Queen Sarah Saturday broke up during the decade's latter half, prompting Irion to join Dillon Fence instead.
Dillon Fence landed a gig opening for the Black Crowes, whose frontman befriended Irion and convinced him to move to Los Angeles. After relocating there in 1997, Irion met Sarah Lee Guthrie, the daughter of folksinger Arlo Guthrie and granddaughter of legendary Woody Guthrie. The two clicked, both musically and romantically, and eventually formed the country-folk band RIG in 1999. They married that same year and went on to issue several collaborative albums, including 2005's Exploration and the 2011 gem Bright Examples. Meanwhile, Irion also released several albums as a solo artist, beginning with 2001's Unity Lodge. ~ Andrew Leahey & Jason MacNeil