First things first, I was a bad blogger and went to see John Calvin perform last night without full camera batteries, tsk tsk me, ergo I couldn’t use my flash… Anywho, on to the write-up. Hope you’re having a great weekend! Enjoy!
John Calvin plays the kind of music that inspires people. As I was sitting last night hearing him play, I couldn’t keep my foot still and the words for this piece just seemed to come to me from out of nowhere.
I’m not one of those who is too easily impressed musically, but walking up to hear John Calvin perform I couldn’t tell if what I was hearing was live, or a jazz album being broadcast over the loud speaker.
Accompanied only by a drummer at this particular performance, Calvin seamlessly cycled between guitar, piano, vocals and some kind of strange ambient music device throughout the performance. He demonstrated a wide variety of talent on each of his instruments; from making his guitar sing in a style slightly reminiscent of Hendrix, switching over to his keyboard and playing various stanzas from a classical piece during the same song.
He got his start musically sometime around age seven or eight when he said his dad “used to play a lot of guitar around the house and would write songs for me and my mom and my brother. Really goofy parodies of famous songs.” From there he got his first guitar when he was eleven and said it was merely a “chick magnet” but he came to the realization that, contrary to popular belief, learning guitar doesn’t immediately secure you throngs of screaming female fans.
When asked about his singing, he paraphrases Bob Dylan by saying “’I’m definitely not Cruso but I can carry most notes’… he probably said that much better than I did though.” That’s the thing about Calvin, despite his musical talent he remains extremely down to earth and humble. You get the feeling he’s grateful to be able to do what he loves.
When you look at John Calvin, you can tell he is thinking musically. And when you see him on stage you can almost see the moment he gets an idea to try something new.
“I like fun music man, right now I’m getting into Folk Music. I’ve been on this Woody Guthrie kick lately, and Cisco Houston and Leadbelly, and of course Bob Dylan. Also going back and maybe listening to some old Robert Johnson albums just to get what the blues really was back in the day.”
He speaks in terms of musicians and band names when referencing those who have inspired him. From Radiohead and Incubus to the three albums he credits with influencing his music the most; Electric Lady Land by Jimmy Hendrix, and Highway 61 Revisited and Blood on the Tracks both by Bob Dylan.
When the topic of what he loves most about playing music comes up, his answer is simple; The people. “There’s just something about it when you make connections with people musically. It’s almost like making love platonically. It’s not sex, it’s not a conversation, it’s something that transcends anything. If there is a spirit, then music is its language. I can honestly say that because I’ve felt the best I’ve ever felt [when I’m] on stage with people, or when there is a listener performer connection and you know, there is energy being exchanged. It’s never stagnant, it’s just like a constant recycling of energy in the air, they give it to you and that just produces more. And what the beautiful thing is, it’s voluntary. People don’t have to give you that energy.”
Calvin has a great sense for his audience and seems to intuitively know when they like what he’s doing with a song. At the performance, a few songs the audience really got in to turned into on of his trademark jam sessions. It was the kind of on stage jam session you could tell was as much of a surprise to those playing as those in the audience. The kind of jam sessions you thought went out with your parent’s music and perhaps, like myself, hoped weren’t really gone.
Calvin is a one of a kind individual, when the topic of his style and his style inspirations came up he said, “I don’t watch a lot of movies or TV, so I’m a big fan of the musicians I play with and I play for. I have a lot of crazy psychedelic clothes in my closet because I secretly wish Hendrix was one of my good friends, god rest his soul. He always had wild style, and big hair, and I like big hair.” He prefers his shoes to come from Urban Outfitter, but isn’t crazy about their clothes. For those, he named American Apparel and thrifting as favorite sources pointing to his vest as he talked about picking it up at a Chicago thrift store for $6.
Calvin released his first EP, Walls of the City, in April 2009 and is currently in the early stages of his next release. He was tight lipped on what we can expect but when asked if it was a departure from what he has put out in the past, he agreed. He cited electronic influences such as Jamie Lidell as well as folk music, Midlake and his perpetual influences such as Bob Dylan and The Band. He plans to have that album released sometime mid 2010, hopefully before summer.
Walls of the City CD’s have been limited to a small run, so your best bet to hear this amazing musician is to go see him live. To get information on his dates friend him on Facebook under John Calvin Abney.
To say that Calvin is a musicians musician would be putting it mildly. He doesn’t play for money or fame, he plays for the audience and for the exchange of that ethereal thing he can never seem to quite put into words. He plays for the sake of music, and when you talk to him you know, for now anyways, that is more than enough for him.