John Fullbright
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John Fullbright

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | INDIE

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2009
Solo Folk Singer/Songwriter




"Young John Fullbright's Confessions Of An Old Soul"

By David Maconi
Back in February 2009, John Fullbright decided he needed a calling card. The young singer/songwriter was going to his first big industry convention, the Folk Alliance in Memphis, so the night before he left, he played a concert called "Memphis or Bust," which was recorded. Then he burned a bunch of CD copies to hand out and took off for Memphis.

Usually, such homemade CDs wind up ignored, and for good reason. Fullbright's live recording, however, is the rare exception. "Live at the Blue Door" (Blue Door Records) is indeed commercially available, and you really should track it down. Despite the modest circumstances of its making and Fullbright's young age (21 at the time), it's an extraordinary collection of surpassing depth and maturity.

It's just voice, guitar, the occasional harmonica and a whole bunch of words, each and every last one perfectly measured and placed. Fullbright still lives in his hometown of Okemah, Okla., and his amiably breezy drawl recalls that town's most famous export: Woody Guthrie, the iconic folksinger. You could imagine Guthrie giving his ragamuffin swagger to something like Fullbright's plaintive ode to heartbreak, "Unlocked Doors":

All the scores of unlocked doors I lost myself in front of

Well, it seems I'm always rescued in the end

And if I'm found in front of yours

With a broken heart and nothing more

Would you open up that door and let me in?

Fullbright wrote many of the 13 originals on "Live at the Blue Door" while still a teenager. Ask him how someone so young could evoke a lived-in-wisdom most people don't reach until decades later, and he's as mystified as anyone.

"I don't really know," Fullbright says by phone from Okemah. "As to how or why, my only answer would be that I never had that many friends. I was living here in Okemah, and there were no other like-minded people I could talk to who were writing songs, especially my age. So I'd just kinda ... disappear into my own head. Sit for weeks on end, think about things and write. I'm pretty shy and private, too, which probably has something to do with it."

The Guthrie connection

Well, maybe. Or maybe he really is just that good. It also doesn't hurt to have Guthrie for a local-hero role model (even though, as Fullbright notes, Guthrie "was just a dirty red Communist" to most modern-day residents of deeply conservative Oklahoma). Fullbright's initial firsthand exposure to the Guthrie legacy came when he attended WoodyFest, the annual folk festival that happens in Okemah around Guthrie's July 14 birthday.

"At first, I didn't care about Woody Guthrie so much as I was enthralled with the fact that musicians were coming to my town," Fullbright says. "So I mostly hung out at the WoodyFest campground. I didn't even see any of the 'real' shows. And the more I hung out, the more Woody Guthrie I heard. If Woody himself were still around, he wouldn't be hanging out at the main stage, either. He'd be out in the campgrounds, too. That's pretty much where I learned how to play."

From there, Fullbright got serious about writing songs, amassing the 13 originals on "Live at the Blue Door." The album also has one cover, the Leonard Cohen standard "Hallelujah," which is perilously close to becoming a song that need not ever be covered again. But don't write it off until you have heard Fullbright's raspy, soulful rendition, which gives it more life than you might have thought possible.

"That's probably still my favorite song I've ever heard," Fullbright says. "You forget it's something an actual person sat down and wrote, you know? Like it's always been there. But the funny thing was that right after I recorded that, it seemed like every single person you saw on TV was singing it. Then I read an interview where Leonard Cohen was calling out other people: 'Give it a rest.' So of course it's the last song on my record."

Album on the way

Fullbright admits he writes very slowly, although he's trying to pick up the pace because, he says, "I'm coming to the realization that my job is to write songs." Still, he'll reprise some of the "Live at the Blue Door" on his first proper album, a full-band studio effort that will come out either late this year or early next.

Meantime, he's on the road as opening act for Sam Baker and Natalia Zukerman, playing Raleigh's Berkeley Cafe on Sunday night. And the creative process goes on, too. The search for songs never ends - except maybe those times when songs find him.

"More times than not, I'll start writing a song without meaning to," he says. "I'll see something, come up with some phrase and laugh about it: 'Wouldn't it be ridiculous to write a whole song about that silly thing?' So 'Blameless,' for example, was gonna be a country parody: 'Jesus, what do we say when they leave us? Why don't they ever believe us? Do they not know what they do?' I thought that was hilarious. But when I got done with the - News Observer

"John Fullbright"

"I ran across a guy named John Fullbright from Oklahoma. I went down to the Continental Gallery last week, and Jon Dee was doing his thing in the Gallery …. and his friend that week was this kid from Oklahoma, who’s about 22. I only heard the last half of the last song. I could hear him from across the street, and I thought, “Man, that sounds like money to me.” A lot like Steve Earle – he’s got that same quality to his voice, only he enunciates better, writes really well. He can go places if he wants to." ~ James McMurtry

Although still in his early twenties, Okemah, Oklahoma native John Fullbright sings like he’s been around for years. Firmly rooted in a variety of American musical styles, including folk, country, blues, bluegrass, and jazz, John is beginning a musical journey that is sure to delight listeners from coast to coast. Already he has the ringing endorsements of many great musicians, including fellow Oklahomans Jimmy Webb, Kevin Welch, and Tom Skinner. Other notable singer/songwriters who have recommended him include Ray Bonneville, Greg Trooper, Dan Navarro, Steve Poltz, Darden Smith, Will Sexton and Michael Fracasso. Equally skilled on guitar, harmonica, piano and accordion, John understands best that “it’s called playing music for a reason.” That’s why you can find him at the music festival campgrounds late at night picking out songs from mentors such as Townes Van Zandt, Hoyt Axton and Leonard Cohen, along with his own unique songs that belie his young age.

"…it’s pretty clear that John Fullbright is one of the most talented young guns out there. Sometimes I think the art of songcraft—using characters, story, language, melody to create something lasting—is a vanishing art, practiced only by old fogies like me. It’s good to see a 21 year-old stepping into this tradition and keeping it fresh and alive." ~ Slaid Cleaves

After playing in Oklahoma singer/songwriter Mike McClure’s band for a year, John has become the most talked about young musician in Oklahoma, playing solo and bringing the house down wherever he goes.

Prior to the 2009 Folk Alliance conference in Memphis, John recorded a live CD at the Blue Door in Oklahoma City, recorded and produced by Oklahoma singer/songwriter and producer Travis Linville. Featuring his own songs as well as a stellar version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Live At The Blue Door is a wonderful calling card for John Fullbright, and the release promises to get him into the conversation as one of the best emerging artists in American music today.
- The AcoustiCanajournal


Live At The Blue Door
From the Ground Up (available May 8, 2012)



"What's so bad about happy?" John Fullbright sings on the opening track of his new album, 'Songs.' It's a play on the writer's curse, the notion that new material can only come through heartbreak or depression, that great art is only born from suffering.

"A normal person, if they find themselves in a position of turmoil or grief, they'll say, 'I need to get out of this as fast as I can,'" says Fullbright. "A writer will say, 'How long can I stay in this until I get something good?' And that's a bullshit way to look at life," he laughs.

That plainspoken approach is part of what's fueled the young Oklahoman's remarkable rise. It was just two years ago that Fullbright released his debut studio album, 'From The Ground Up,' to a swarm of critical acclaim. The LA Times called the record "preternaturally self-assured," while NPR hailed him as one of the 10 Artists You Should Have Known in 2012, saying "it's not every day a new artistearns comparisons to great songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Randy Newman, but Fullbright's music makes sense in such lofty company." The Wall Street Journal crowned him as giving one of the year's 10 best live performances, and the album also earned him the ASCAP Foundation's Harold Adamson Lyric Award. If there was any doubt that his debut announced the arrival of a songwriting force to be reckoned with, it was put to rest when 'From The Ground Up' was nominated for Best Americana Album at the GRAMMY Awards, which placed Fullbright alongside some of the genre's most iconic figures, including Bonnie Raitt.

"I never came into this with a whole lot of expectations," says Fullbright. "I just wanted to write really good songs, and with that outlook, everything else is a perk. The fact that we went to LA and played "Gawd Above" in front of a star-studded audience [at the GRAMMY pre-tel concert], never in my life would I have imagined that."

But for Fullbright, it hasn't been all the acclaim that means the most to him, but rather his entrance into a community of songwriters whose work he admires.

"When I started out, I was all by myself in a little town in Oklahoma where whatever you wanted, you just made it yourself," he explains. "I didnt grow up around musicians or like-minded songwriters, but I grew up around records. One of the most fulfilling things about the last two years is that now I'm surrounded by like-minded people in a community of peers. You don't feel so alone anymore."

If there's a recurring motif that jumps out upon first listen to "Songs,' it's the act of writing, which is one Fullbright treats with the utmost respect. "When I discovered Townes Van Zandt, that's when I went, 'You know, this is something to be taken pretty damn seriously,'" says Fullbright. "'This is nothing to do with business, it has to do with art and identity.' You can write something that's going to outlast you, and immortality though song is a big draw."

Fullbright inhabits his songs' narrators completely, his old-soul voice fleshing out complex characters and subtle narratives with a gifted sense of understatement.

"My songwriting is a lot more economical now," he explains. "I like to say as much as I can in 2 minutes 50 seconds, and thats kind of a point of pride for me."

The arrangements on 'Songs' are stripped down to their cores and free of ornamentation. Fullbright's guitar and piano anchor the record, while a minimalist rhythm section weaves in and out throughout the album. That's not to say these are simple songs; Fullbright possesses a keen ear for memorable melody and a unique approach to harmony, moving through chord progressions far outside the expected confines of traditional folk or Americana. The performances are stark and direct, though, a deliberate approach meant to deliver the songs in their purest and most honest form.

"I'm a better performer and writer and musician now, and I wanted a record that would reflect that," he says. "We tracked a lot of it live, just me and a bass player in a room with a few microphones. The basis is a live performance and everything else supports that. I think you just get as much energy and skill as you can into a take, and then start building from there. And what we found is that you don't have to add too much to that."

To be sure, 'Songs' has its moments of darkness, tracks born from pain and heartbreak, but for a craftsman like Fullbright, there are few greater joys than carving emotion into music, taking a stab at that lofty goal of immortality through song. It makes himand his fanshappy, and there's nothing bad about that.