Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter John Fullbright burst onto the music scene in 2009 with an album recorded live at The Blue Door in Oklahoma City. He became even more well known in 2012 when he released his album From the Ground Up. He performs this Sunday as the opening act for Norman’s Summer Breeze Concert Series.
25-year-old John Fullbright is from Bearden, Oklahoma, and went to school in neighboring Okemah, Woody Guthrie’s hometown. His roots come through in his music, and it’s clear that the connection to one of America’s greatest songwriters has helped put Fullbright on the map. But don’t get me wrong. If the young musician’s 2012 album has taught me anything, it’s that this guy is his own man.
It’s also pretty clear that Fullbright isn’t afraid to be a little unconventional at times. His down-to-earth approach to lyrics doesn’t lead to predictable songs. For instance, in his song “Gawd Above,” he adopts God’s point of view with surprising clarity.
When Fullbright first started playing, he didn’t rely on standards from Guthrie or anyone else to get him through. He leaned on his original pieces for catfish and tips. In a recent interview with David Dye on NPR’s World Café, Fullbright talked about his first gig in Okemah.
“I brought in a big book of lyrics I printed out,” Fullbright says. “And I’d stand up and play until my voice was gone, which sometimes it’d take three hours, sometimes it’d take longer. But that’s when I really learned how to scream. And that would’ve been my first real taste of it.”
His screaming is, in my opinion, more like growling. He never loses control over his voice, but he is always able to convey emotion.
For Fullbright, it seemed that music was in his cards from an early age. He says, for him, music was significantly easier than the time he spent on the farm in Bearden.
“It was a hell of a lot easier than hauling hay,” Fullbright says. “Even on the nights where you’d only make five bucks… I’d much rather make $5 that way than waking up at dawn and bucking square bales.”
John Fullbright traded in his early mornings in the fields for late nights playing venues all over the world. His 2012 album From the Ground Up became a sensation in the music scene, and he’s been busy ever since. The great thing about the album is that each song has a slightly different feel than the one before. Fullbright says this was intentional: he didn’t want to be pigeonholed into one specific genre.
“I tell people you might not like all of it on this album, but you’ll like something. I like a lot of kinds of music, and I like playing a lot of kinds of music. I like writing different genres. And when that happens, they call it Americana,” Fullbright says.
Fullbright returns to Norman, where he recorded that career-altering album, this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Only this time, instead of playing inside a studio, he’ll be performing at Lion's Park.