Some people never find their true calling in life. Others stumble onto it along the way. For John Spicer, discovering his destiny was never in doubt. Since he was almost too small to hold a guitar, but too determined not to try, John’s always known he would be a singer/songwriter. It‘s finally time for him to share his music with the world. Now, as the flagship country artist for Legend Group Records, this multi-talented performer is getting his chance front and center with his first single “Pretty Good at Lovin’ You”, a debut album Crossing Over, and an A-list support team to make it happen.
“I’m impressed with his playing, I’m impressed with his material. I think the kid may have what we’ve all been looking for”
– Merle Haggard, Artist of the Century (Billboard Magazine)
It’s a dream come true for the 23 year-old from Patoka, IL, a town so small it has no stoplights and only one service station. John grew up living “the real deal” country childhood, running along dusty dirt roads, exploring backwoods fishing holes in beat-up old trucks, and listening to the great storytellers of country music on the radio with his father and grandfather. Legends like Merle Haggard, Vern Gosdin, Conway Twitty and Hank Williams Jr. gave him a deep and early appreciation for what he calls “three chords, the truth and a steel guitar.” His grandfather and father were both musicians, and the whole family would play and sing while John watched. One day, his father and grandpa put down their guitars and left the room for a moment. They returned to the sight of John confidently strumming and chording his way through Merle Haggard’s classic, “Sing Me Back Home.” He was barely four years old. At Christmas that year, John’s dad and grandfather presented him with his first guitar, a half-sized classical model from Walmart, and he never looked back.
“I’ve always known this is something I’m supposed to do,” John says. “To make music, play guitar, and write songs. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.” At the age of six, he immersed himself in guitar lessons, then banjo. His first public performance came in a third-grade talent show when he played “Malagueña” from start to finish on a 1966 Fender Coronado hollow-body guitar. At the age of nine, he began performing at bluegrass festivals, local Opry houses, and various talent shows throughout the Midwest, winning first place at such notable competitions as the Marion County Talent Show, the Southern Illinois Guitar Wars, and being the highest-placing instrumentalist in the Illinois State Talent Competition. At 12, John was asked to teach lessons at Mac Daddy’s Music in Salem, IL, a shop owned by noted session guitarist and sideman Mack Curtis. John taught guitar, mandolin, bass and banjo to guys three times his age, easily earning their respect and discovering that he could make a living doing what he loved most.
“Music is something I was born to do, and I’m never going to stop. I’ll have a guitar in my hand until the day I die.”
– John Spicer, Artist
His unique talent soon caught the attention of Mack Curtis’ L.A.-based son Houston, a former MTV director of development and founder of Big Vision Entertainment. “My dad called me one day and said, ‘Listen to this 12 year-old picker!’ In the background was the most unbelievable banjo picking I’d ever heard. Not long afterwards, I made a trip home to visit my father, and I met the same 12 year-old boy who this time floored me completely with his guitar playing. He played way beyond his years. My dad said, ‘Houston, promise me you’ll keep an eye on this boy. There’s something very special about him.’ It was one of the only times my dad ever made me promise something, and sadly, Dad passed before he ever even got to hear Johnny sing.”
Houston invited John to move to Los Angeles after hearing him perform a song he’d written for Mack Curtis’ funeral. It was a pivotal turning point. Curtis formed Legend Group Records around John, and with the help of Dave Weiderman, the head of A&R for Guitar Center who immediately fell in love with John’s music, was led to famed producer/engineer Tom Fletcher, who signed on to oversee the project, calling John Spicer “the artist I’ve waited my entire career to produce.” For John, the overriding motivation was staying true to the storytelling that has always defined country music. And though California has been part of country’s fabled history through the artistry of “the Bakersfield Three” (Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam), John isn’t concerned about geography or locale.
“Music is a universal language. The songs I write come from growing up my whole life listening to all my heroes tell their story. When the greats like Merle and Vern told their story, it was in a way that no one else could. One day I realized that I had my own story to tell, and I’ve been writing songs ever since. The first show I ever did as a singer/songwriter was in Nashville at Tootsie’s, and I’ve enjoyed playing the honkytonks on Lower Broadway. I have great respect for Nashville, and the artists and music that come out of there. But when Houston gave me the opportunity to record my first album with such an incredible team of world class pros, I knew in my heart this record was going to be something special. I’ve learned through this experience that no matter where you may be on the map, good music is good music, and talent is talent. And I’m very blessed to have such a talented cast of characters surrounding myself and this project.”
Coming from a working class family, John is no stranger to the value of hard work and dedication. “My father worked his hands to the bone his whole life to make sure that my mother, my two sisters and I never had to want for anything.” Seeing how hard his father has worked to provide for his family only makes John appreciate his gift for music that much more. “I’m proud to say the only job I’ve ever been paid to do since the age of 12 is play music. Whether it was an acoustic show, a recording session, or a gig at a honky-tonk on Broadway, I was happy. It was fun. It was exciting. There’s no greater blessing in the world than being able to make a living doing what you love.” John describes his adventure thus far as “an absolute roller coaster.” From recording at Capitol Studios A and B, rubbing elbows with the top professionals in all fields of entertainment, and getting the chance to live his lifelong dreams, John is in an elite and very lucky group of individuals.
“JOHN IS A TALENT LIKE I’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. HE BLEW ME AWAY THAT FIRST NIGHT HE PLAYED ACOUSTIC IN THE MIDDLE OF A HOLLYWOOD PARTY.”
– David Weiderman, Head Of Artist Relations – Guitar Center
But the crowning jewel of his entire “ride,” as he calls it, was meeting his hero, Merle Haggard. “It was the single most incredible moment in my life. Merle and I had a little impromptu jam session in his living room. I played him my track, ‘Do You Get Lonely,’ and he reached for his guitar. We then played the first song that I ever learned, ‘Sing Me Back Home,’ then a few of my other favorites, ending on ‘Working Man’s Blues.’” But getting to play with his hero wasn’t the only highlight of his day.
“After finishing ‘Working Man’s Blues,’ I jokingly said, ‘I better head back to the studio, gotta go back and do some work now, Merle,’ and he sorta laughed and said, ‘Don’t we all.’ After which I told him that I’ve never felt as if I’ve worked a day in my life.” That’s when John says Merle gave him the best advice he’s ever received. “Merle leaned forward putting his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘If you worry about the music, John, you’ll always have money. But if you go worryin’ about the money, then you may not always have the music.’ That, for me, solidified every thought I’ve had about this whole experience. From going to Los Angeles to work with this team, to writing songs in a way no one else may dare to, it’s all for the betterment of the music, and if that’s how Merle says you should do it, then what more do I need?”
John’s debut single, “Pretty Good at Loving You,” sets the bar high. Part 1 of the album, Crossing Over – 323, is set to follow Spring 2015, with Spicer originals like “Country Girls,” “Catch and Release,” “First Time” and the Eagles-flavored “Loving Me Tonight.” But perhaps the most personal song he has written on the entire album is an acoustic number entitled “Do You Get Lonely,” which John recorded live at Merle Haggard’s studio in Redding, CA. on the heels of his impromptu jam session with The Hag himself.
With the album finished, John is now poised to introduce his songs to radio, talent buyers, and most importantly, to the millions of fans who, just like him, live and love and listen to country music as the blueprint of their lives. It’s no wonder John can’t wait to get started. After all, it’s what he’s always known he was meant to do. And now he aims to prove it. When asked what he thinks of John Spicer and his new album, Merle Haggard says, “I’m impressed with his playing, I’m impressed with his material. I think the kid may have what we’ve all been looking for.”