If you spend much time on the road not taken, you are likely to meet John Calvin Abney there.
Perfectionist. Evoker of chaos. Individualist. Accomplished side man. A man who is both lover and fighter.
Fed by a diet heavy on Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, John found something in those albums he needed.
“One day, I was just sitting around playing records and I found the key to one of the doors presented me in my mind.”
Just as the electric guitar was starting to lose some of its cultural cachet, John Calvin Abney doubled down on his own, creating discordant walls of sounds with his band and gleefully alienating anyone who would take the time to be offended by the reckless abandon with which he approached his music.
Although he moved to Norman to study philosophy at the University of Oklahoma, he found it unsatisfying, spending much of his first year skipping class to teach himself to play the piano, and switched over to anthropology. His friends, by his own description, were “choir kids and engineering students.”
“I was a musician who didn’t hang out with other musicians and kind of developed my thing in isolation.”
A year before graduation in 2011, John formed a two-piece band with Marty Landers called Pilgrim and Pine, a noisy duo that Abney describes as “a punkier Black Keys kind of thing.” After one particularly bombastic performance, he was approached by singer-songwriter Camille Harp, who asked him if he’d like to come perform with her the following week.
“I don’t know what it was about that performance that made her think I could color inside the lines but she gave me a bunch of charts and we were off to the races.”
Calvin ended up playing a weekly residency with Harp for more than a year which spiraled quickly into other gigs backing up big name performers like Samantha Crain that took him all over the country. In addition, Abney was a founding member of the acclaimed hip-hop group ADDverse Effects and helped start a garage band called Poolboy.
In 2012, Calvin released the Without Wax EP, a six song collection that marked the beginning of his transition from a guitarist to a songwriter -- something that Abney freely acknowledges came to him later than some.
“I started writing songs when I was 20. Now it’s all I do. My guitar playing is taken a back seat because songwriting has become so important.”
With the release of the Empty Candles EP in late 2014 and his first-full length recording, Better Luck due out in January 2015, this attention to songwriting craft is paying big dividends for Abney.
Though he still performs with Crain, John Moreland and Kyle Reid and the Low Swinging Chariots, John is stepping out of the shadows in his role as a sideman and unmistakably taking center stage as a bandleader in his own right.
Armed with a clear vision of his own, an unwavering dedication to the song as his chosen vehicle of personal expression and experience measurable in thousand mile hauls to the next gig, John Calvin Abney is a game-changer and we haven’t seen the best (forget about the last) of him yet.