2016 - Iowa Rock 'n Roll Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award
John has been a musical presence in clubs, bars and other Southwest Iowa and Eastern Nebraska venues for 50 years. Raised on a farm near Henderson, the quiet isolation led him to be creative and entertain himself, and the first flash of the future came when his mom put on a Dukes of Dixieland album and found the four-year old banging on a magazine with her knitting needles in perfect time.
He began playing drums in fourth grade but bought a guitar and amp two years later because there were plenty of drummers in the neighborhood, but no guitar players. “I switched to guitar in junior high and it was a real struggle. I thought totally rhythmically but now had to play scales and solos and chords,” he explained. “I ended up banging and beating the guitar like it was a set of drums and it has really influenced my style, playing aggressively and with conviction. I discovered I just loved playing in bands, doing live gigs.”
In 1967, John’s family began spending summers in Washington, D.C. Being gone three months of the summer each year made it difficult to keep his high school garage bands together, but it immersed the young Iowa farm kid in R&B, soul and funk…and exposed him to a new style of music called “psychedelic.” He brought these influences back to Iowa each year and his bands began to introduce audiences to new music and artists often with extended jams and complex arrangements. Although the music was certainly ahead of its time, it did not always meet with commercial success.
“We were playing Hendrix, Cream, Blue Cheer, wearing silver sparkle pants, made flash pots using raw gasoline, doing 10 or 15-minute jams…it did not sell well in Southwest Iowa in 1968,” John said, “but we learned a lot musically in free-form jamming and getting way out there musically honed our skills; and it paid off later. And as I recall there may have been a few psychedelics involved at the time.”
Since college John has played in a wide variety of working bands in SW Iowa and Omaha covering every type of music including R&B, Top 40, funk, country and jazz. Whether in an established band or a pick-up gig, he made it a point to never turn down a job.
“I just love to play live gigs, that’s it…that’s my thing. I never liked the studio and never recorded much; we just went out and played live,” John said. “Even if there wasn’t a band we just called up musicians and went out and did it cold. It’s a challenge and satisfying to show up with people you have never met before and do a four hour gig and make it sound good.”
Even while playing clubs six or seven nights a week, John maintained a career in journalism and public relation to support his musical habit, and raised three girls on the same farm where he grew up. His many bands have included Farmer John and the Pigs, Fatback, 110 in the Shade, Revival, The Persuaders and The VersiTones (with HOF inductee Dave Matthies), The Sharks and many others. He currently plays in three rock bands, two acoustic groups and two church praise teams.
“It’s been an incredible, incredible ride,” John said. “To be in rock and roll when it was new and developing. To play live and do gigs and be in some really good bands, and some not so good bands, it’s been a wonderful experience. When I am on stage playing and look at the crowd and the weird things that go on and all the things I see, I think…I have been much more entertained by them in my life, than they ever were entertained by me!”