John was born on October 26, 1951, in Poughkeepsie New York. He moved to Lexington Kentucky in 1957 with his Parents. In 1964, John got his first Guitar and soon after was playing in bands with friends around his neighborhood. In 1970, John went to the University of Kentucky to major in stand-up Bass but soon realized that he was thinking in terms of Melody, “I knew that if I was going to work I needed to find a melody instrument.” John Had already begun playing the Lap Steel in addition to bass guitar so the move to pedal steel seemed logical. John practiced day and night, brought his guitar home every night from a job, and listened to as much steel as possible. “Some of his early influences were Don Helms, Buddy Charlton and of course the master at being commercial Mr. Pete Drake.”
John says “I have many friends around the world today thanks to the Steel Guitar and music,” Heiko Aehle is a friend of John’s that lives in Germany. John says, “I was trying to contact the North Tennessee Steel Guitar Assoc. on my computer and when I typed in the address and clicked on ‘go,” Heiko’s Home page came up and after e-mailing with him, found out that he lives in the same area of Germany that my family the HEINRICH’s came out of in the Eighteen Hundreds”! “Heiko and I probably would have known each other long ago or played in the same bands if my family had never immigrated.”
John recently was presented a custom EXCEL Steel Guitar built by Mitsuo Fujii, President and Owner of the “Fuzzy Steel Guitar Products Company,” in Tokyo Japan. John considers it a great honor to be presented this beautiful guitar and Full Endorsement! from the makers of such a high quality instrument. Read more here:
Lisa: Hey John! You are in the music industry for a long time, and you have a very rich career behind you, but you still got it. How have you managed to keep your ideas fresh, and keep the level of energy you have today?
John: The one thing that stands out for me for keeping a fresh attitude is I always go back to what made me take the path that I did and that was the Beatles. That I’m open to every genre of music, when I think back there was always music that I didn’t care for and that stands true today, but I can always find something in every genre that I like. I decided that when everything is going wrong and nothing is happening job-wise if I could step back and say I still love what I do then this career path is for me and so I went on with that plan. Add to that one of my mottos “if I’m going to go into a volatile and unstable business I needed to follow the thinking that I and only I have control of my future and only I could change my direction in music. I see way too many other musicians blaming everyone else for their problems.
Another key is to stay away from Drugs and Alcohol, that’s of course obvious, if it’s not “You’re Fired” and who fired you?….Yourself! You also need to have a stable base to work out of that that entails a lot starting with relationships and friends. Hope I didn’t get too far off the path but all this to me is an important part of attitude. While I’m at it it I’ll also mention you have to have the people skills or it’s going to work against you. I like to meet new people and if I’m not working a session or gig them I’m networking, can’t impress the importance of this enough, this has saved me many time over! (ok off the soapbox)
Lisa: Tell me more about your Europe experience in the early 80’s, especially your time in Berlin. Berlin was an inspiration for a lot of artists in those days.
John: Well you asked for it and I should probably write a book. In March of 1979 a Bass Player friend of mine that I did some road work with came into to the club where I was playing in Lexington, KY, on the break we spoke and he said he had a job in Brussels, Belgium, 2 months we would get paid good, see a bit of Europe then back to the States, well I left in late March of 79 and came back to the States in 1985! I worked in Brussels and could walk down the street and hear my playing on the radio all the time. That was really cool but I wanted to see more of Europe. I was originally want to go to Paris but all the musicians told me if I wasn;t a French national I would not get work. I got many contacts from my friends in Belgium and went to Germany at the end of 1980 at which time I moved into what was West Germany. My plan was wanting to go and work in Munich but the flats there were too pricey.
I had a contacted a Frau Risave who was booking studios and musicians for Frank Farian who was the producer of Boney M and Milli Vanilli, she he said there was also studio and live work in Berlin. Then I had only seen pictures of a bombed out Berlin and winter was coming on so I decided to stay in West Germany. After a year I was thinking about coming back to the States at the ends of 1981 when I got a call from a musician that said a singer was looking for a musician so I called and he said I would have to moved to Berlin so I decided I would try it. Christmas of 1981 found myself flying through one of the 3 corridors that East Germany set up for planes coming into West Berlin. Well, once I got settled I realized West Berlin was one big party, everyone knew that if the Russians decided to invade Berlin it would only be a couple of hours and the only reason the military from the US, England and France was there was to hold them off and burn all the secret documents. This gave Berlin a real edge of life, all German males were required to enter the military unless they went to school or university in Berlin so you had all these musicians and artsy craftsy people in Berlin. Loved it! Well the group I was in split off from that singer I mentioned and we did our own thing and put out a single that went to the top 10 in Germany and things just took off. I remember recording at Studio Hansa which was right next to the Berlin Wall. This was the same studio that many artists would record in including David Bowie.
Lisa: You are a multi-instrumentalist and a studio musician. How busy are you these days? And if you could choose one instrument to take with you on a deserted island, what would it be? 😊
John: These days I am slammed doing internet and live recording. I had started doing internet tracks at the end of the 90s and had been promoting and networking myself with the instruments I could offer. I was already doing a brisk business with the recording studios here in Nashville and Internet tracks and when the pandemic hit last March, many people had time to work on their music so for me the jobs went through the roof.
As for what instrument would I take with me on a deserted island, first I would want to take my Oboe and or English Horn (Cor Anglais), problem with that is once the reed went bad the instruments are a decoration in the sand. Same goes for a pedal steel and Dobro once the strings break it’s just an object. The Same with Clarinet and it’s reed. I would probably get more milage out of my Flute by taking it at least till the pads leaked so bad it couldn’t be played, might be able to use something on the island to make a pad.
Lisa: You’ve recently presented EXCEL Steel Guitar built by Mitsuo Fujii, President and Owner of the “Fuzzy Steel Guitar Products Company” Tell me more about that.
John: I have a total endorsement with the EXCEL Pedal Steel guitars and have 3 of them I’m proud to say! One is a single Neck 10 string, one is a double neck 10 string and the big mama jama is a 14 string single neck. Gene Breeden who owned a studio in Nashville and who had a number 1 BillBoard hit in 1972 had been going to the St. Louis International Pedal Steel show, he met Mitsuo there and mention that I played Pedal Steel and that would be a good idea for him to give me an endorsement. I contacted Mitsuo and told him what I wanted pedal and knee lever-wise and waited a year for the steel to be shipped.
On the day before 9-11 I received this endorsement. Gene called me and said to come to the studio, I had an idea it the Pedal Steel. Well once at the studio I met Mitsuo and he showed me my new Double neck 10 strings EXCEL built me, UNREAL to say the least. Mitsuo didn’t have anyone with him that could translate the languages so the only thing I could was to point at it and smile. I had a recording session later that day with an artist by the name of Razzy Bailey and told Gene that if it didn’t sound good I couldn’t use it. At the session it sounded Awesome and I am going to use it today on a session. The Single neck EXCEL steel I use in the studios and with my boss 40 number 1 Billboard hits Ronnie Milsap.
Lisa: I loved your track “While We’re Young”. What’s the story behind this track?
John: I was trying to marry a vocal chorus with a sax instrumental basically and was wanting to do something more up to date. I wanted a Minor feel to the harmonic side which allowed me to play a cool vibe on the sax.
Lisa: What types of change do you feel your music can initiate?
John: I’m trying to innovate new sounds all the time and I certainly don’t want to feel pigeon holed. There are many genres to choose from and to connect with, just takes some brain power.
Lisa: Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during your creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed much?
John: I’ve made discoveries like working in a 23 piece Big Band and a Community Symphony Orchestra. Lately those 2 have given me a more rounded perspective of music and what it can do. Of course this affects my writing for sure because it’s always on the cards when I am writing music whether I use it or not, I guess it falls into to “What if I used this instrument or instruments.”
Lisa: What’s your favorite album you’ve recorded so fa, and why, if you can choose?
John: I’m thinking my favorite project that is completed is my “3 FACES” project. This project is from my sole.
Lisa: Describe your approach to recording.
John: The way I like to record is to already have a basic idea then give it to musicians and give them the feel they have a say so in the music as well. I’ve found that out of %100 they will give you %200. I pick my studios which offer a good vibe. The good engineer knows what he is doing and can also offer ideas.
Lisa: What non-musical entities and ideas have impacted your music?
John: Places and things that happen in everyday life other then music. It’s that simple.
Lisa: What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?
John: Advice I would give would be to approach music with an open mind. If you’re working or co-working with someone that wants to be totally dominate, leave. Give you contact cards or info out to anyone in the business, don’t feel like you are being pushy and there again try to read the other person and if they come off like a A-hole then don’t give them anything. Most people are cool but the bad seeds are out there. Important “DON’T TALK BAD ABOUT ANYONE!” You don’t want to become the purveyor of bad news. Don’t trust anything, always have an alternate plan, maybe 2 or 3, you might not be able to get out of the situation quickly but of you do it right, stay calm and think it out you can always extract yourself from a negative deal.
Lisa: What is your view on technology in music?
John: I think the technology is update to date and sounding good, of course I grew up with the 2 inch tape machine so I have a perspective on that as well the digital age. No one hears music the same and you can’t please everyone.
Lisa: What are your plans for the future?
John: I’m going to stay on my path and keep going till I drop, I always say jokingly “It’s Too Late To Stop Now” HA! Music has given me many great memories. Please stop by my website, listen to my music and if you feel so inclined send me a message.
Thank you Lisa, Gotmusictalent and revolvemusic for the opportunity to do this interview.
Thank you John!