John Fullbright

How a reclusive Oklahoman cultivates Americana, pop and folk via Jimmy Webb-endorsed songcraft.

John Fullbright

Fact Sheet

  • For fans of Townes Van Zandt, Woody Guthrie, Leon Russell
  • Aged 19, Fullbright quit a music degree at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant after two months. “I wanted to travel. I wanted to be Townes Van Zandt.”
  • From The Ground Up started life as a number of demos that quickly became “keepers”.

“I’m grateful for the attention, but I never set out to be a star,” says John Fullbright. When the laid-back 24-year-old learned his debut, From The Ground Up, had been Grammy-nominated in the Best Americana Album category he was at home in isolated rural Oklahoma catching up on chores. “I would have had to drive for at least an hour to find someone to celebrate with,” he says. “I just went back to scrubbing the tub.”

Fullbright grew up on an 80-acre cattle farm that’s been in his family since 1919. When not atop a tractor he spent 365 days a year playing music alone. Guitar-wise, he learned from Mississippi John Hurt and Steve Earle. Fullbright also blows a mean harmonica, but his first instrument is piano. “I’ve taken a lot from Leon Russell there,” he smiles. “That gospel thing he figured out I’m just wild about.”

From The Ground Up is full of big questions and existentialist angst, but Fullbright was raised Southern-Baptist and Biblical imagery abounds on the Grant Lee Buffaloesque Jericho and the deftly picked Satan And St. Paul.

“These days I don’t often crawl into Leviticus to write,” he says, “but if you’ve hellfire and brimstone for an ex-lover you might as well steal a few lines. Songwriting is really just a form of arrogance. You think you’ve something to say that is just yours, but it’s already been said so much better than you could ever say it.”

“I don’t come from educated people. I come from smart people”.

JOHN FULLBRIGHT

For all of Fullbright’s reservations, Jimmy Webb, for one, is impressed. Indeed, when Fullbright won the ASCAP Foundation’s Harold Adamson Lyric award for his song Moving last year, Webb presented. “He’s said some nice things and he’s become a mentor from afar,” explains the youngster of
his fellow Okie. “I haven’t told Jimmy this yet, but I’d love to write with him.”

Fullbright says Moving was his attempt to write a positive, Woody Guthrie-type song. That he and Guthrie were both born in the town of Okemah has not gone unnoticed, but there, Fullbright says, is where most of the similarities end.

“He’s an optimist and I’m a pessimist, but most people who’ve figured out how to write a good positive song learned it from Woody.”

And what of Fullbright’s precocious lyrical gift? Are other folks in his family good with words?

“I don’t come from educated people, but I come from smart people who choose their words carefully,” he says. “You ask my father a question and you’ll wait five minutes for the answer because he’s thought about it six different ways. In interviews I’ve started filling space with sounds coming out of my mouth. I don’t like that. At home if you’re slow to answer it reflects well on you, but the music business is different.”