Art for the listener
The Soul of John Black's music open for interpretation
April 2, 2004
When you think of The Soul of John Black, think Prince. Think Al Green. Think Sly and the Family Stone.
Do not think John Black, the character in “Days of Our Lives.”
“The band name comes from a few different places,” guitarist/ vocalist John Bigham said. “John is like Mr. X, like John Doe. Black is for the darkest side of music, like Johnny Cash. It’s not so sweet.”
Or that’s what he’s saying today. The Soul of John Black is all about changing meanings and an eye of the beholder philosophy.
Their most popular song “Scandalous (No. 9)”, played often on KFMU, repeats the lyric, “Hit a No. 9 and I’m gone.” The song has a walking beat carried along with a funky keyboard. The phrase gets stuck in your head, but if you don’t already know what No. 9 is, you’re on your own.
Most of TSJB’s songs are about beautiful women. The others come from some of the most obscure corners of songwriter life. For example, Bigham had a head cold this week.
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“I have a phrase in my head right now that I thought of because I can’t sleep,” he said. “But when I write it, it will take on a completely different meaning.
“I say what I’m thinking and that means a lot of things to a lot of people. That’s what art is — for the eye, for the ear, for the listener.”
Bigham’s freedom to say whatever he wants and leave it up to interpretation could be something he learned from mentor and former band mate Miles Davis.
“Miles taught me freedom,” he said. “He won’t hire you if he doesn’t see something in you, that you have your own ideas.
“He taught me to play from the heart.”
Miles Davis put Bigham under his wing many years ago after hearing a four-track recording of the young musician’s playing. Bigham had laid down track on top of track, playing all the instruments himself. Davis saw promise and asked him to write a song.
“If you’re going to be intimidated when your opportunity comes, you won’t go anywhere,” Bigham said. “I wrote three songs, and he picked one. After that, I got the gig as his protege.
“I got invited out to the house, and we developed a friendship.”
Bigham eventually took a seat as Davis’ percussionist until he got a call from a friend with an offer to join the ska band Fishbone. It was 1987, and Fishbone was about to hit its stride.
The Soul of John Black is Bigham’s first band in which he has creative control. The band was formed by himself and bassist Chris Thomas as the primary writers and bandleaders, backed by a five-member band.
“Right now, we’re getting to know what we’re all about,” Bigham said. “We’re figuring out where we want to go with it. It’s just wild.
“It’s like when we write these songs. It’s stream of consciousness, and then we figure out what it is later.”
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