The Soul of John Black
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The Soul of John Black

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The best kept secret in music

Press


"Former Fishbone member finds a whole new brand of soul"

The amazing collaboration of former Fishbone multi-instrumentalist John Bigham and bassist/rhythm programmer Christopher Thomas, begins with a broad conception of soul. Instead of standard R&B loops, these guys use expansive, far-reaching melodies and rockish backing to tell their stories -- which include several odes to beautiful women, a breakup song about being "trapped inside the burning wreckage of your status symbol" and, on the Stevie Wonder-ish "The Bridge," the challenge of "I tried to build a bridge over my pain." Where conventional soul-music wisdom says the beats must kill, Bigham and Thomas lay down a tense, minimal rhythm and then concentrate on the rest of the framework: elaborate, strummed acoustic guitars that give way to groaning, distortion-heavy electrics; and loose gospel harmonies that inspire the dazzling ad-libbed vocal outbursts found on "Scandalous (No. 9)," the tormented "Honey" and the album's aptly named highlight, the smoldering, Afrobeat-tinged "Supa Killa." - Rolling Stone Magazine


"Spine-tingling..."

Old-school funk pulses through this debut from Everlast alumni John (JB) Bigham (ex-Miles Davis and Fishbone) and Christopher (CT) Thomas (Betty Carter). The duo's alternative all-American music wafts through a collection of fragrant ballads, sassy swingers, and confrontational anthems, like the surging antimaterialism of "Honey": "You might think I'm giving up the best of me/ But I don't keep it in my pocket." The results are spine-tingling. - Interview Magazine


"Best Songs of 2003"

The dual solo offering of Outkast was a constant presence in the car, right alongside the debut of this extraordinary duo, John Bigham and Christopher Thomas. Starting at the crowded intersection of R&B and hip hop, they gather in elements of the blues and psychedelic rock and Stevie Wonder-ish vocal improvisation, yet never sound pretentious. - NPR (National Public Radio)


"CRITICS' CHOICE"

The Soul of John Black is the collaboration of John Bigham and Christopher Thomas, multi-instrumentalists who have worked with an impressive array of acts, including Miles Davis, Betty Carter, Eminem, Henry Butler, Everlast, Fishbone, Joshua Redman and the Brian Blade Fellowship. Bigham and Thomas' musical backgrounds are so much more inclusive than exclusive that the result of their collaboration must have been wildly unpredictable. What has emerged, however, owes primary allegiance to funk and funk/jazz, hip-hop breakbeats and R&B. These tracks do cook. From the sexy remembrance of "Carolyn" to the monster groove of "Supa Killa," the genre-crunching "Lost & Paranoid" and the acoustic tune "Joy," Bigham and Thomas have created a distinctive collection of polished, very hip tunes. - Billboard Magazine


"FORMER FISHBONE GUITARIST AND FRIEND TAKE R&B BACK BEFORE THE DAY."

Supper clubs lately are full of young afroed men paying smooooth homage to the sophisticated '70s soul of of Donnie Hathaway and Marvin Gaye, but LA duo The Soul of John Black hews closer to heartsick R&B like that of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Guitarist John "JB" Bigham has worked with both Miles Davis and ska-funk madmen Fishbone, but he and co-songwriter/bassist Christopher "CT" Thomas don't showcase their jazz or try to out-eclectic fellow soul survivors like Joi and Erykah Badu. They keep their funk-rock radio friendly and their ballads (including one about Joi) grounded. Bigham's voice voice has a textured twang reminiscent of Al Green's, so while TSOJB's slick rap nods ("Carolyn") fall flat, the acoustic serenade "Time (Losing My Mind)" sends a hundred magic fingers down your spine. Which explains why they're not called the Hip-Hop of John Black. - Blender Magazine


"This is what Sublime's Brad Nowell hears in heaven."

If you bought K-o's Exit album and couldn't figure out why you got stuck with a conscious-rap Jewel, this Los Angeles duo get the hip-hop-folk equation right. They coolly busk about sex, love, poverty, and paranoia in a raw, Roots-y-style. This is what Sublime's Brad Nowell hears in heaven.
- Spin Magazine


"3.5 (of 4) STARS"

When you consider that The Soul of John Black is essentially a duo - guitarist John Bigham and bassist Christopher Thomas - it's remarkable just how big a sound they've created in the little home-recording studio where this disc was made.
Te pair excel at old-school funk and acoustic hip-hop, which lands them in the slippery terrain between Sly Stone and Macy Gray.
The opening track "Scandalous (No. 9)," is a walking-tempo, two-chord funk groove that's a good introduction to the rest of the disc.
Other notable tracks include the melodic, ethereal ballad "Time (Losing My Mind)" that hints at Otis Redding's power-soul style.
Thiis is the kind of disc that won't be on radio or MTV - but should be. - New York Post


"Band to Watch"

Soul music sounds so strong played on acoustic guitars, it's a shame more artists don't take advantage of it.
The Soul of John Black plays it for all its worth. The duo, which just released its self-titled debut album, stresses acoustic guitars and bass for a fine and simple sound. Older listeners will think of '70s folk-soul artists like Bill Withers or Minnie Riperton. Modern fans may think of India.arie (minus the self-righteousness).
Guitarist John (JB) Bigham previously played with Fishbone; bassist Christopher (CT) Thomas has toiled with Everlast, Macy Gray and others. The highlight of their own music is Bingham's funky vocals. But nearly as impressive are the fluid tunes written by both members. Together, they prove soul music often works best when stripped to the bone. - NY Daily News


"Brilliant"

On their debut (on the No Mayo label, which raises funds to support music education in public schools), John "JB" Bigham (Miles Davis, Fishbone) and Christopher "CT" Thomas blend rock, funk, blues, gospel, roots, soul, jazz, hip-hop and God-knows-what-else into a positively seamless sound bereft of pretense and hiccups. The most brilliant examples: "Scandalous (No. 9)" is straight funk out of the blaxploitation era, hold the cheese; "Time (Losing My Mind)" is a country ballad waxing Floydian (think Animals performed by Al Green); and "Lost and Paranoid" tosses in some Eastern melodicism into the swinging funk that spans from the '70s through the present day. - Harp Magazine


Discography

Self-Titled Release: The Soul of John Black

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

THE SOUL OF JOHN BLACK

There is simply nothing on the contemporary American music scene quite like The Soul of John Black.

The music has the feel of a tightly integrated band. This self-titled album showcases the work of two musicians, John "JB" Bigham and Christopher "CT" Thomas. The two co-wrote the songs, cut basic tracks and collaborated with a handful of amazing players to complete the body of work. A propulsive groove underlies every track, but on top of that are subtle pop-rock melodies and warm, soulful singing. Most of these thirteen songs could be played on a single acoustic guitar, but the clean, spare arrangements are filled with adroit musical accents like the wailing sax solo on "Supa Killa" or the fuzzed-out slide guitar on "No Mo’."

Other participants on The Soul of John Black include Keith "Keefus" Ciancia (keyboards), Davey Chegwidden (percussion), Oliver Charles (drums), DJ Kiilu Grand (turntables), and Tracy Wanname (saxophone and flute). Backing vocalists include Cree Summer ("Glorious"), Laura J. Jones ("Honey"), Jonell Kennedy, Fanny Franklin and Audra Nishita. Throughout the album there are hints and overtones of Sly Stone, Neil Young, Al Green, the Velvet Underground, Curtis Mayfield, P-Funk, Love, Jimi Hendrix, and the Isley Brothers. But The Soul of John Black transcends its sources and influences to establish a singular sound of its own.

John "JB" Bigham (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lead vocals) was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, the youngest of five children. His earliest musical influence came from his mother. "She was actually very hip," JB recalls, "and whatever she brought home, that’s what I got into. I also had an older brother who came back from Vietnam with [Jimi Hendrix's] Band of Gypsies and Led Zeppelin II." Then, at 13, JB began playing electric guitar.

After JB’s mother died, he moved to Atlanta and began playing in teenage cover bands. "I was crazy about Cameo—I saw them many times, and my groups covered their tunes. Earth Wind & Fire, Prince, Chaka Khan—all the big names came through Atlanta." JB also lived for a time in Washington, DC, where "go-go was the happenin’ thing then—Trouble Funk, E.U. [Experience Unlimited], Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers."

JB had joined the Air Force Reserves after high school. Activated for service, he spent the next three years as an aircraft mechanic stationed in Victorville, CA. When his service ended, JB moved to Hollywood and began picking up occasional gigs. He also became friends with jazz legend Miles Davis, and their relationship would profoundly influence JB’s future.

"I auditioned for Miles as a guitar player but didn’t get the gig, so I went back to parking cars at a Condo in Westwood! One week later, I got a call from a friend: ‘Miles wants you to write him a song.’ And I knew I could do that, because I’d been writing for a while on the under-ground scene.

"I went home and wrote two songs for Miles—and he liked them! I became like a protégé. Miles put me on his payroll and really helped me gain my confidence. I’d go to his house two or three times per week—I’d bring him some stuff to hear, and he’d play me a lot of music from Africa and the Caribbean."
Miles recorded the JB composition "Jilli" on Amandla (1989), the trumpeter's last studio album with his working band. JB also played percussion with the Davis group during nine months of international touring, and he appears on the home video Live in Paris. By this time, JB had met Philip Fisher a/k/a "Fish" of the pioneering rock-funk-ska band Fishbone. After one final tour with Miles, JB accepted an invitation to join Fisher’s group.

During his eight years in Fishbone, JB contributed songs, guitars, keyboards, and backing vocals to such albums as The Reality Of My Surroundings (1991) and Chim Chim's Bad Ass Revenge (1996). Today, he describes the best and worst aspects of this ex-perience as simply two sides of the same coin; Fishbone was a true democracy.

"The worst thing about being in that band was getting seven ag-gressive guys to try and agree on any one thing. And that could be whether or not we were gonna eat lunch at McDonald’s that day when McDonald’s was the only restaurant in a ten-mile radius.

"But those same guys taught me everything I needed to know about the music business: how to book the gigs, how to lease the tour buses, how to design and print and sell the t-shirts. At one time I became the leader of the band, just because it was my turn!"

"Fishbone also listened to a lot of music and read a lot of books. From Mutabaruka to Kate Bush to Iggy Pop to the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, they just opened to me up to so much." During this time, JB appeared on Bruce Hornsby's album Harbor Lights (1993), playing on tracks that also featured Jerry Garcia and Bonnie Raitt.

In 1996, JB and Fishbone parted as friends. He still lived down the street from the band’s rehearsal space at Hollywood and Vine,