The Soul of John Black is a celebration of the African American musical heritage. On Black John, JB masterfully combines soul, gospel, funk and hip-hop, while tracing its roots all the way back to its humble origins - the blues. JB infuses his uniquely crafted music with contemporary urban rhythms and hauntingly earthy acoustic slide guitar which at once pays tribute to a bygone era of such legendary figures as Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, while boldly crossing over into new innovative territories and sonic frontiers. Backed by notable musicians Adam McDougal on keys (Black Crowes, Macy Gray, Maroon 5, Nikka Costa), Oliver Charles on drums (Ben Harper, Rhythm Roots All-Stars), Scott Seiver on drums (Nikka Costa, Inara George), Jake Najor on drums (Carl Denson, Connie Price, Breakestra), Shawn Davis on bass (Beck, Nikka Costa), Davey Chegwidden on percussion (Rhythm Roots All-Stars, Bitter Sweet, Ghost Face Killer, Big Daddy Kane), and Bill Botrell on 2nd guitar (Grammy winning producer for Sheryl Crow, Shelby Lynne, and many others), The Soul of John Black has reached a new plateau; transcending the crossroads and arriving upon an unexplored intersection on the aural highway. It's soul music for a whole new generation. Amazon.Com
“A testament to the strength of African American music and the undeniable influence of the blues... Bigham's anguished wail will grab your gut and turn it inside out.” – Esquire Magazine
“...TSOJB have created a distinctive collection of polished, very hip tunes.” – Billboard Magazine
“…a crisp, confident collection of soul, hip hop and rock that's redefined by right between the eyes vocals and guitar as well as, superb musicianship.” - Wall Street Journal
Seamless blend of blues, R&B, funk and soul, February 19, 2009
By hyperbolium (Earth, USA)
The third album from guitarist John Bigham (Fishbone, Miles Davis) continues to explore the intersection of blues, R&B, funk and soul. Having co-founded the group with bassist Chris Thomas for 2003's eponymous debut, he assumed the lion's share of artistic control on 2007's The Good Girl Blues, and here provides the songs, vocals, guitar and production. Blues and gospel provide the underlying progressions, but this is anything but "straight eight," with electric bass and piano guiding the music towards the blend of soul, R&B and funk heard on the group's first album. But neither is this a mash-up of styles, as the elements are smoothly absorbed into the whole, rather than stitched together patchwork-style. Bigham's guitar is here, but it's his elegant and thoughtful vocals that are the album's star, with elements of Al Green, Prince, Sly Stone Lenny Kravitz, and Isaac Hayes all figuring into the results. Fans of old-school funk, `70s soul and contemporary blues will all find this to their liking.
1. Black John 4:08
2. Betty Jean 4:07
3. Ever Changin' Emotions 4:18
4. Last Forever 3:46
5. Bottom Chick 4:33
6. I Knew a Lady 5:32
7. White Dress 3:51
8. Never Givin' Up 4:38
9. Better Babe 4:43
10. Push Into the Night 3:58
11. Holiday Inn 5:00
12. Thinking About You 2:27
The Soul Of John Black is the nom de musique of John Bigham, whose impressive resume includes a stint as percussionist with the Miles Davis band, eight years of guitar and keyboard work with the pioneering rock-funk-ska band Fishbone, and touring and session work with Dr. Dré, Eminem, Nikka Costa, Bruce Hornsby and Everlast, just to name a few.
"I never intended to be a performer," Bigham says. "I loved music and wanted to be a part of it, but by picking up a guitar, coming to California and telling people I was a musician, I put things in motion. Somebody told somebody else I was a musician, then next thing I knew, I was in Paris playing with Miles Davis. When Miles first asked me if I could play percussion, I said yes, even though I'd never
played percussion, because I knew how percussion should sound, and I knew I could do it. He said “Show me,' and I did, and that was it."
Bigham's been doing it ever since and on new album Black John, there's more sex, more funk, and deeper, more complex rhythms than his previous work The album's loose, friendly vibe is guaranteed to pull you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. "I was on the road last year, playing clubs," Bigham explains. "The people who go to clubs are all about the party. They come out to have a good time and dance and get into it. I worked a lot of these new songs out playing at Café Boogaloo in Hermosa Beach, a place with plenty of good time beach energy. Playing there made me want to make an upbeat album."
The arrangements on Black John blend blues, folk, funk, rock, country, classic soul, Gospel and world music, but Bigham doesn't spend a lot of time planning out his line of attack. "I have my own style, but I have no preconceived notions about what a song's going to sound like. I get it down by feel and instinct, just doing what comes naturally. It's the same approach I've taken to my entire career, and my life, for that matter.
"Black John" kicks off the party off with a folk-like tall tale in the tradition of John Brown and John Henry. It opens with acoustic guitar and handclaps, then jumps into the groove with funky, stuttering electric guitar accents, booming bass, and electric piano. Bigham's forceful vocal, swooping synth accents and a short, stinging guitar solo give the tune an ominous feel, building up to the song's violent, ambiguous conclusion. "It seems like someone's going to die," Bigham says archly, "but it's unclear who. I like that element of uncertainty." Laura Jane
Jones and Kandace Linsey provide backing harmonies that blend elements of the street and the church.
"Betty Jean" is a tribute to Betty Davis, the black rock singer, known for her outrageous stage shows and radical costumes. The tune is funky and soulful with a laid back Caribbean feel. Adam McDougal's whistling, Memphis-style Hammond B3 work and guitar stabs that mimic the sound of a horn section, compliment Bigham's sly, sexy vocal. "White Dress" combines acoustic guitars, call and response vocals, and a popping snare and timbale pulse to create some Delta funk. Bigham's vibrant slide work on the acoustic Stella and his languid,
slurred vocals bring to mind the lascivious singing of Son House and John Lee Hooker. The hook line - "white dress, black drawers" - creates an indelible image. "I didn't make that up," Bigham says. "When I saw that woman dancing in the sun in her white dress, I knew I had to write about it."
Bigham channels his inner Al Green for "Never Givin' Up," written with Chris "CT" Thomas, his long time musical collaborator. The tune has a Gospel feel with electric piano that mimics the sound of an R&B hit from the 70s. CT's atmospheric synthesizer accents and backing vocals by Kandace Linsey and Laura Jane Jones intensify the pleading quality of Bigham's lead vocal. Other stand out tracks include the slow, slinky PFunk groove of "Ever Changin' Emotions;" the lighthearted blues/rock of "I Knew A Lady," with a Texas blues meets DC Go Go bounce to its beat; the wide open country tune "Better Babe," marked by the ringing sound of Bigham's lingering guitar overtones and "Bottom Chick," which blends elements of ragtime, jazz, and boogie woogie piano into its countrified groove. Bigham delivers a faux harmonica solo using only his own vocal chords. "Thinking About You" closes the record with a traditional blues, just guitar and vocal. Clifton Collins, Jr., the actor famous for his role as killer Perry Smith in Capote, directed a video for "Thinking About You."
Bigham produced Black John cutting the tracks live, with minimal overdubs, at Kali Koast Studio with engineer Richard Segal, long time associate of Dr. Dré; Nikka Costa's Stella Studio with Justin Stanley; Jimmy Sloan's New King Studio, and Bigham's own home studio, Whitley Manor. Bigham assembled a large cast of like minded musicians to help him get his groove thang going including Adam
McDougal on keys (Black Crowes, Macy Gray, Maroon 5, Nikka Costa), Oliver Charles (Ben Harper, Rhythm Roots All-Stars), Scott Seiver (Nikka Costa, Inara George), and Jake Najor on drums (Carl Denson, Connie Price, Breakestra), Shawn Davis on bass (Beck, Nikka Costa), Davey Chegwidden on percussion (Rhythm Roots All-Stars, Bitter Sweet, Ghost Face Killer, Big Daddy Kane), and Bill Botrell (Grammy winning producer for Sheryl Crow and Shelby Lynne) on second guitar on "Never Givin' Up." Bigham played all the guitars: slide, acoustic
Bigham's last album, The Good Girl Blues, was nominated for Best New Artist Debut from the Blues Music Awards (formerly the W.C. Handy Awards) in 2008. It was hailed for the emotional power of its stark musical vision, a journey back to the primal roots of the blues. On Black John, Bigham lightens up with songs that are funkier, more soulful and more groove oriented. The music still has its wicked
moments, but there's a ray of sunshine shining through, even on the album's darkest tracks. Bigham brings the same laid back, but focused approach to his live gigs, be they solo with guitar and voice, guitar-bass-drum trio outings or full band jams. "I always keep my mind open to fresh ideas," he says. "The best music comes from free styling it within the confines of a structure. You have to let the music be what it wants to be and stay open to the sudden inspiration that you can get to with the perspiration."