Tag: blues; OJATA; Jon English; blues musicians; kansas city blues; BB’s Lawnside BBQ

Orphan Jon – Part Two – “Abandoned No More”

Orphan Jon English performed Friday, April 20, 2018 at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. ©2018 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair

Cont’d from Part One:

The former orphan, Jon English, had acquired a beautiful family in his adulthood after growing up for years in the California social services system. It was enough of a success story that any man who had done the same, could have sat back and considered themselves a lucky human who need not accomplish anything further.

But for Jon, the Universe had other plans. A new world was waiting.

Expanding the Family

Newly divorced in 2001, and enjoying fatherhood while working as a heavy equipment operator, as well as becoming a supervisor over other crews in the land development industry, Jon English continued to be upbeat about his life and content with what lot he had been given. But to some, his aloneness was still apparent. His older sister, Georgia, with whom he had reconnected in his adult life, was determined to play matchmaker for him. She encouraged Jon to try something still relatively new in 2003: online dating.

He was completely against it.

So, like a very good sister, she made him a profile on a dating site anyway.

He was shocked when a young woman responded with a message one evening. After some online chatting and some phone calls, they agreed to meet, in a highly public place for dinner. They instantly connected and eventually realized they were perfect for each other. With that, Carrie became Carrie “Stella” English and her three girls; from a previous marriage, blended with Jon and his two daughters and son as they were married in 2004.

“I met my beautiful wife Carrie. She became my rock and my everything. She accepts me completely for who I am,”Jon said. “My life changed drastically for the better the day our eyes first met. She’s my soulmate. My inspiration. Basically, every love song I’ve ever written, is about her. Period. I cannot imagine life without her in it. Which is what the heartbreak, suffering and loss is written from in my lyrics. She is my personal Muse.” 

“Every single one of the kids are good people – five daughters and a son. They all have their personalities and their careers. There are no step children in our family. All my kids are my kids.” – Jon English, Orphan Jon. Carrie “Stella” English, standing, second from right. (Submitted photo, Orphan Jon) (1)

In a small-world-department moment, Carrie told Jon on one of their first dates that her ex-husband Randy Carlile had gone to the same high school as Jon. Carrie and her ex had parted ways amicably, much like Jon and his ex-wife, and had continued to co-parent their three daughters as well.

“Randy and I went to school together. He’s a couple years younger than me but he knew me because of my athletics. And he was athletic as well, being a football player,”Jon said.

“My ex-wife and I never had any animosity. We decided ‘When we went our separate ways, our children are going to always come first. Just like back in my childhood days, children have no say in what the adults do. It was important to all of us that our children knew we loved them and will always be here for them. Randy and I get along great! Stella and Randy get along great! He’s a super, super nice guy. Our kids call him ‘Papa Randy.’ A lot of people might say “How the hell did this happen?” but, it’s like, well, I don’t spend time on negativity and what could have been. Life goes on. I try to make a positive out of everything,”Jon said.

Jon said Randy has become one of his biggest fans and supporters, and travels with the band often as their roadie, which just expanded Jon’s family even more.

“Every single one of the kids are good people – five daughters and a son. They all have their personalities and their careers. There are no step-children in our family. All my kids are my kids. I know how it is to feel like an outsider, never accepted, and my beautiful Stella; along with Randy and the ex, are on the same page as I when it comes to our kids. I think we did ok with them. They are my pride and joy”

Beginning Professional Singing

As the children continued to grow and one by one left home, Jon reconnect with some old high school friends in 2009 through social media. As the friends started hanging out together, they would go to karaoke bars together for fun. One of those friends, a high school classmate who had been singing professionally, asked Jon to sing back up in her newly re-formed band and he accepted.

“After the second show, she came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not a backup singer,’”Jon recalled. “I thought, ‘okay, I can handle rejection.’ I tried to look like ‘no big deal.’”

 “No, no, no,” she says to me, “you don’t understand. You aren’t a backup singer, because you need to have your own band. You’ve got a great VOICE, you’ve got a great personality!”

 “She said: “You’ve GOT to do this,” And I’m like, ‘Really? You think I should?” and she said, ‘You’re outgoing, people love you,’ – so I thought about it and said, ‘Why not?’”

 “But after that conversation, I didn’t really give it any more thought. It was kind of flattering that she felt this way, because in my mind, she’s been a very successful vocalist.” Jon said.

Nonetheless, as Jon started going to jams to perform, it had somehow gotten around to other people that he was putting a band together.

“Now, I don’t know this – but other people are saying it,”Jon chuckled.

After some trial and error, Jon’s efforts did result in a band: English Revolver.

“That’s when I started seeing the concept of what a band is – 4 or 5 people getting together and it’s an absolute relationship,” said Jon.

“I decided I wanted to do something that I liked, that nobody else does, something that’s me – blues, roots, and the songs that I feel are cool. I wound up getting some great musicians here in Bakersfield. And within a couple of years, we became very busy, playing locally and doing a few festivals.“ Jon was with English Revolver until the end of 2014. “It basically ran its course. We started in 2012 and accomplished a lot in such a short time. And that’s when I discovered that ‘wow, people really do like my singing.’ I learned so much from Eddie Marqurdt, Jim Gianettoni, Gordon Hilton and Dave Johnston. Valuable things that I’m forever grateful for. But it was time to go a different direction.” 

Early band – English Revolver (2)

Songwriting – Orphan Jon and the Abandoned

What Jon truly wanted to do was write his own songs. As he explored this further, Jon talked about one of his favorite songwriters.

My biggest influence in writing is Dave Matthews of Dave Matthews Band. I love that guy. I love his writing and everything. He writes poetry and he puts music to it,” Jon said

When members in his early band, English Revolver, parted ways, another opportunity presented itself from the relationships Jon had cultivated throughout the music community in Bakersfield, Los Angeles and along the Central Coast of California. A musician from the Central Coast of California, Wil Anderson, spoke with Jon outside a club in Oildale, Ca. in the fall of 2014. It was a spot where a monthly jam was taking place, hosted by KayKay Jagger of Rip Cat Records.

“We were discussing our future musical ambitions’ Jon explained. “Wil was telling me how the band he was currently in was ending at the end of the year, and I was telling him the same about English Revolver. What we both discovered during the conversation was how much we both wanted to write and perform our own music… music that we loved – the blues. Wasn’t long after that Wil contacted me about a few songs he and Bruce [Krupnik] of the current Strata-tones had been working on. He asked me to listen to them and see if I would be interested in laying down the vocals on the tracks. They were two smooth heavy grooved tunes. Totally dug them. Well, it was basically a chance for them to see if I was into what they had been writing. I was!”

A crucial turning point took place just a few weeks after their initial meeting outside the jam in Oildale, Ca.

During the back and forth conversations with Jon, Wil had also been talking to Bruce about the idea of doing a project with Jon.

“Bruce was against it,” Jon chuckled while recalling the conversation. ‘He told me that Bruce; who’s very much into blues, was skeptical when the proposal of us three getting together was spoken of.”

 “I know Jon English…he’s a rock singer,” Bruce told Wil.

 Jon added, “But Will insisted – “‘No, brother, this cat can sing, trust me…check this out.’”

 “So, he shows Bruce a video of me sitting in with Barry Levenson, (who was the regular guitar player with Canned Heat for nine years), Mike Malone, TC Markle, Chris Smith and Johnny Ray Jones during their show at the New Starboard Attitude in Redondo Beach,” Jon related.

“I had one verse of a song I was starting on called ‘Born in the Blues’ It’s about me when I was a kid. It’s about the night she [his mother] left…that night she showed affection toward me and it [the song] says “She bent down to his face, brushed the hair from his brow, placed a gentle kiss in its place, something he’d never felt before now.’ So that’s a verse in the song.”

 As Jon performed the incomplete song with Levenson and Malone and the guys at the Starboard Attitude, “I started making up lyrics as I sang the song. What else could I do? I was kind of put on the spot…” he chuckled.“So, anyway, Stella [Jon’s wife] recorded it all and put it on Facebook:

Carrie Stella English recording – “Born in the Blues” Orphan Jon(3)

To convince Bruce that Jon is a Blues singer, Wil showed the video clip of the improvisation, insisting to Bruce: “No, Brother, you’re wrong, this cat can SING.”

After watching the video, Bruce was more than convinced and agreed to proceed with the idea of creating a project with Jon. He was so convinced that after a few more discussions, Jon related, that “Wil says, ‘Listen, I talked to Bruce [Krupnik], and what do you think of this: We’ll be your band and you be the front man, the heart, soul, mind and personality – everything. You handle everything. We’ll be your band and see what we can do.’ And I’m, like ‘Wow, that’s kinda cool.’  I was, like ‘Whoa, these are professional players and, well, Bruce, he’s so well-respected, I was pretty much blown away by it all…WOW.’”

The three got together on January 31, 2015 and, with Bruce Krupnik on guitar, Wil Anderson on bass, Stan Whiting on drums and Jon on vocals in that one afternoon, the three wrote six songs.

“We would write and Wil, to his credit, would record everything. Bruce, Stan and Wil were just absolute geniuses. I would write the lyrics, while Bruce handled writing the music,” Jon said.

On that first writing session together on a breezy sunny afternoon the band wrote “Backbone,” “Born in the Blues,” “Broken Angel,” “Medusa,” “Redheaded Woman Blues” and “Tight Dress.”

A few weeks later we got together again and worked on what we had started and continued to write more. “Love Light,” the first song I ever wrote in my life, came together during these times. We wrote those songs and we thought, ‘We’ve really got something here.’

We wrote from the heart, what we felt, it just happened, it just worked. Just like a dove’s tail. Perfect. When a dove flies, and then lands, their wing feathers just go together perfect, they just lay right automatically. It was like everything just came together perfect. Maybe destiny, I don’t know, but it felt right,” said Jon.

Jon credits his closest Brother relationship for getting the band together, though.

“The reason I have Orphan Jon and the Abandoned, the band I have today is because of Johnny Main and his advice to me as I considered putting a new band together,” Jon remembered.

Johnny told me: ‘You’ve got to put together a band that is committed 100% to you. That if you call them up, no matter what time of day it is or even what day it is, if you call them up and everything is right in your mind what you’re gonna do, you tell them ‘This is where we’re playing, this is where we’ve gotta be, this is when we are leaving,’ then their reaction must be every time: ‘Okay, send me the info and I’ll be there.’ You can’t be ‘Okay, let me check with my job, let me see if I got vacation covered, let me check with my wife (or girlfriend).’ They’ve got to be committed to YOU. THAT’S what you gotta have.

 So, that’s what I laid out with Bruce, Will and Stan and they said ‘No problem, Brother, we feel the same way. If we’re gonna do this, we’re not gonna do it half-assed, we’re gonna be professionals, we are going to write and we’re gonna see where this goes,’” said Jon.

Orphan Jon English and guitarist Johnny Main performing Friday, April 20, 2018 at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads on a stop along their Midwest Tour. ©2018 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair

In forming the new band, Orphan Jon and the Abandoned, Jon found his former work experience of handling contracts as a heavy equipment operator came in handy for running a band.

“The front part of being in the band is only a part of running a band,” Jon said.“I feel like I’ve won over a lot of people because I know how to deal with the business aspect outside of the performing side of things. If you can’t handle the business side right, no matter how successful you are music wise, things can get really rough financially real soon, which will screw up all the other parts that make for a successful band,” Jon said.

Jon discovered that writing songs with Bruce Krupnik was a perfect match. The two musicians seem to appreciate each other equally. Bruce being more of the introvert of the two, is fine with Jon’s more outgoing personality. But their mutual admiration comes out in their conversations with each other.

“It was like a destiny thing, things happened for a reason. You know, it was meant to be I guess. We got to hang out almost a year before all this writing began at the Ventura County Blues Festival in the Spring of 2014. We hit it off instantly. Hell, our wives hit it off instantly. And we never discussed music that day. We just had fun, laughed, found out we had the same sense of humor. Just a great time in each other’s company.

I’m blown away by his playing.” Jon said.

From Bruce’s standpoint, though, he admires Jon for his lyrics, his singing, his charisma, and his command of an audience, as Jon related, “Bruce said, ‘I couldn’t DO that.’”

Jon felt that songwriting gave him the opportunity to explore the nature of acceptance and rejection while still giving a voice to his deep volume of emotions.

“Songwriting is like having a baby,” Jon explained.  ‘You create this ‘child’ which is the song, and say ‘Okay, here ya go, world…I hope you like my child.’ And they could decide ‘Ew, your child is ugly’ or they could say ‘Oh my God, what a beautiful child.’ It’s a serious leap of faith. But, to me, that’s kind of what songwriting is – I’m presenting to the world this little kid who was lonely and now he is being accepted.”

Finding his musical muse and soul brother in Bruce, Jon also found out how powerful acceptance could be to in the creation of their original music.

“I don’t play a musical instrument…I don’t play a harp, a guitar or drums…I just sing,” said Jon. I’ve heard some folks say ‘If you don’t play a physical musical instrument, you’re not a musician.’ I would sing the way I would want the song to go (Jon sings a little scat)… I found some would laugh at me and say ‘Dude! Really?’ [So I think] ‘Alright I won’t do that again.’ I felt like a fool, really unaccepted by those I was with and respected at the time. It put a huge negative and apprehension in my writing approach. So, with Bruce, Wil and Stan, when we first began writing, I wanted to establish a foundation to work off of, so I prefaced our writing session by apologizing and told them ‘Hey, I can’t play an instrument but, if you guys don’t mind, if I come up with a music idea, I’m gonna sing it to you.’ I felt very vulnerable – and I’m waiting for a chuckle or a laugh, as had happened with my previous band. 

But Bruce says, ‘You are using your instrument, yours is your voice.’ I said, ‘I can’t do it any other way’ and he said, ‘You shouldn’t do it any other way, Brother.’ And it just opened up the world to me. When you eliminate the hesitations, creative juices will certainly begin to flow. He has no problem if I sing this song to him the way I want. That’s what I love about Bruce,” Jon said.

 Jon also said that the collaboration with Bruce seems to stem from their willingness to be open to the other’s thinking.

“When I write these songs, Bruce comes up with stuff that blows me away. He’s the one I lean on. He’s the experienced one. I follow his lead, I run things by him but he’ll still say, ‘Jon, it’s your call.’”

 For “Love Light,” for instance, Jon sent Bruce a short riff, which Bruce then expanded into an entire arrangement.

“Cold Man Blues” was another one like that.

“Sometimes he writes a riff and I write [lyrics] around that, and vice versa” said Jon.“It’s a great partnership. There’s no set formula other than that we both trust each other,” Jon explained.

(4)

“Cold Man Blues,” is about a man –who’s eventually ending it, a man who is going to take his own life.

I wrote the lyrics and Bruce wrote the music. It’s about a man who lost his wife or love and he can’t go on living. Bruce says to me, ‘You got this range in your voice.’ He calls it my sweet spot…so we wrote this song in the key that really express my vocals. It starts off slow and gradually builds, and then we punch it at the end. We recorded it then, took it home and I listened to it. I thought, man, I punched it too soon. So, when we got together to work on it more, I changed things up on the arrangements and that’s what’s recorded on the album,” said Jon.

Cold Man Blues G -( Lyrics: Jon English – Music: Bruce Krupnik) 3/14-15

No Sun In The Morning

Whiskey In My Hand

Life’s Not Worth Livin’

Time Is At Hand

 

Thoughts Trouble Me

Loneliness Is Too

Silence Is Screaming

I Know What To Do

 

See Strange Shadows

Know They’re Not Yours

Hear Them Slowly Walkin’

Stretch Across My Floor

 

Voices Come From Nowhere

Whisper Loud And Clear

The Most Dreadful Feelin’

I’ve Lost You My Dear

 

I Can’t Go On Sufferin’

This Aching Dispair

Visions Of You Leavin’

You Just Didn’t Care

 

Lost In This Darkness

Never To Be Found

I’ll Find My Comfort

When I’m Buried In The Ground

 

This is Where I’ll Be

No Burdens To Bare

I Will Be Free

Cause You Won’t Be There

 

*Kept So Cold And Free

From Sorrow To Bare

In This I’ll Always Be

For You Won’t Be There

Jon and Bruce wrote “Cold Man Blues” with a great deal of care not only for the music and the lyrics but the delivery and performance to make the song truly complete.

“Bruce basically arranges most of the songs. He’s got that mind,” Jon said. “I’m still learning. This one I arranged, it was my first to do so on. I’ll start off an octave low, then go in the range I’m normally in and then I’ll punch it.…now, the emotional side of the song. The emotions in that song, what I draw from. That song was about me. Me being that abandoned kid, how can I convey that loneliness, despair emotions of being left, left unexpectedly?  Every time I sing it, it hits me to the core. It tears me up inside because I always remember being that kid in the orphanage – alone laying on the top bunk in the boy’s dorm side, and seeing that lit up green exit sign in the distance, wishing I could leave, tears streaming down my face, pissed off, scared, upset, wondering why am I here? What did I do to be in this place? So, when I sing “Cold Man Blues,” that’s the emotions I draw from. I’m that kid again. There were times when I was a kid when I wish I had just died and never existed because of what I was going through. So, that song is the most personal song I sing to date that I’ve written. That’s about me crying out as a kid, even though the song is about an adult person. I couldn’t write that song any other way. It’s written about a man losing his love, because if I wrote it about me, I just wouldn’t be able to sing it. It’s too heartbreaking and I still have too much inside that I’m not sure I’ll ever get over.”

The song “Leave My Blues Alone” is another track that has gotten a lot of attention. And the song was born out of a conversation that Barry Levenson had one evening with some very young musicians at a blues venue.

Jon related the story: “[Barry] liked the band and went over to talk with them to compliment them on their music.” 

“The gist of the response from the young players, as Barry conveyed it, was ‘You’re just an old guy, your days are over, we’re bringing blues into the 21stcentury and people are going to like what we’re doing, and you guys are old hat. It’s time to move on.”

Jon’s response to hearing Barry’s story was: “You know, Brother, the blues are just fine where it’s at –  just leave my blues alone.”

 “Instantly it hit me,” Jon said. “I said to Barry,‘I think I just got a song, I’ll be right back.’ And in 30 minutes, I wrote the whole song. Bruce comes up with this killer groove idea for the music and I go ‘Oh, my God, that’s perfect.’ That’s what I love about Bruce, he and I are always on the same mindset when it comes to writing. It’s uncanny.’”

 “Leave My Blues Alone” – Orphan Jon and the Abandoned – Knuckleheads 2017

Orphan Jon and the Abandoned with guest Johnny Main – Knuckleheads 2017 ©2017 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair (5)

Leave My Blues Alone Dm (Lyrics: Jon English – Music: Bruce Krupnik) 2/7-15

You Say It’s Too Old

Need Something New

Messin’ With What Is,

Sho Ain’t Tried Nor True

Leave My Blues Alone

Yes, Leave My Blues Alone

 

Got To Add Some More Of This

Got To Add Some More Of That

Too Much Of Anything

Ain’t Where It’s At

Leave My Blues Alone

Yes, Leave My Blues Alone

 

Leave My Blues Alone

Leave My Blues Alone

Where It’s At

Is Where It Belongs

Leave My Blues Alone

 

Now You Say You’re Just Thinkin’

Outside The Box

Gotta Have So Much More Funk

Gotta Have So Much More Rock

Leave My Blues Alone

Hey Now, Leave My Blues Alone

 

Bring It More To Date

Is What You Say You Want To Do

But You Ain’t Supposed To Change It

It’s Supposed To Change You

Leave My Blues Alone

Yeah, Leave My Blues Alone

 

“Abandoned No More”

 

As the partnership solidified and the band began performing together, the local response was more positive than they expected.

After a couple of years, Orphan Jon and the Abandoned had gained solid traction with positive responses from audiences who dug their originality and style within a solid blues genre.

“The blues attracted me because the blues fits me to a ‘T’,” Jon mused.“I’m an emotional person. I’m not an introvert, I never have been. I learned as a kid that being a clown, making people laugh, showing a great sense of timing, people liked me. The blues is so self-expressive. It captures every angle and sense of life. And it’s emotions. That’s me!” Jon said.

His combination of comical antics, his long history of enthusing church audiences, came together in harmony with Krupnik’s decades of experienced musicianship. Johnny Main’s encouragement of getting the band out on the road with his own successful band, The 44s, coupled with Levenson’s belief in the band’s potential, catapulted Orphan Jon into the recording studio.

The “Abandoned No More” tracks, freshly minted in late 2017 at Rip Cat Records, and released on March 16, 2018, is filled with passionate lyrics born out of a set of earthy experiences that bonds to the souls of its audiences. Barry Levenson, producer of “Abandoned No More,” was quick to latch on to Jon’s singing talent: “Jon, you are a producer’s dream come true. Every one of these songs on this album are one take.” 

 As for success, Jon is appreciative of everything regardless of where the band’s success takes them.

“There’s gonna be people who like OJATA and there’s gonna be people who don’t care for OJATA,” Jon said. “I just appreciate the chance to get to share our music. If they like it, I’m immensely thankful. If they don’t care for the music, that’s way cool too. I’m truly grateful for everyone that has shown a tremendous love for the band, and I’m okay with those that don’t. To each his own. There’s a big enough populace in the world, there’s a big enough musical pie to get a slice of – even if it’s a small one – that we’re perfectly fine with our lot in the music scene. There is absolutely no jealousy of others. We love what we do. We have no egos. We just have a strong passion and drive to write, play and put on a show that leaves folks wanting to see us again.”

That hard-fought positive attitude was a deliberate decision made by the person who chose to break the cycle and make the world a better place for his own family.

“Everything that’s happened to me in my adult life – everything – music-wise, my social life, my wife, my kids, are a direct result of me no longer holding onto the bitterness, anger and destructive side of my youth. I decided a long time ago not to allow the rotten things in my childhood destroy my future, but to turn it around and make it a positive present – turn it around and make something good out of the bad for my life. So, I can say to my biological mother, and to those that abused me: ‘what you did to me as a kid didn’t destroy me. It made me a better person.’”

The Logo

Heather June ©2018
Copyright Heather June, artist ©2018 (7)

 

A booklet is included with the “Abandoned No More” CD. Inside that booklet is a picture of a little boy, which Jon said is the earliest picture that exists of him, his kindergarten picture. It was the picture taken not long before his biological mom left him in the hotel.

When the time came that a logo was needed, Jon looked to his oldest child Heather June, a professional tattoo artist living in Reno, Nevada, created the band’s logo.  Jon asked her if she could come up with a logo that was simple and fit the band. A few days later she sent him the logo, a black and white of a little boy’s face. Jon said, “I was blown away. She told me ‘Pops, I couldn’t think of a better logo for the band than this.’” 

It was her graphic rendition of that first picture of Jon that became the logo of Orphan Jon and the Abandoned.

The title ‘orphan’ was once a scarlet letter etched across the heart and mind of a lost child – a constant burden of despair and anger,” Jon said. “Embarrassment was a faithful companion because of it. Once just a number in a case workers folder. Filed away in a cabinet. Hidden. But through perseverance, a strong love, and a will to change, today the title is held as a badge of honor.”

With his wife and children, expanded music family and growing fan base, Jon English changed the course of his fate from a discarded child, turning despair into hope and hope into change. That message is carried through his lyrics and performances with Orphan and Jon and the Abandoned as they release their first full CD, “Abandoned No More.”

 

(1) Grateful acknowledgement for submitted photo from Orphan Jon.

(2) Grateful acknowledgement to Orphan Jon for the youtube link to English Revolver

(3) Grateful acknowledgement to Carrie “Stella” English for sharing her FB video of “Born in the Blues” performance.

(4) Grateful acknowledgement to Orphan Jon and the Abandoned for sharing of youtube video “Cold Man Blues” and “Sowing Seeds”

(5) ©2017 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair, standard youtube license.

(6) Grateful acknowledgement to Heather June for reprinting of her Orphan Jon logo ©2018 Heather June.

 

Orphan Jon and the Abandoned is bringing their “Abandoned No More” tour to several cities this spring.

Find the performance date nearest you: April thru July performances OJATA

Or, visit the “Abandoned No More Album Tour” page on Facebook.

April 19 – The Alamo Springfield, IL

April 20 – Knuckleheads Kansas City (Gospel Lounge)

April 21 – Third Base Springfield, IL

April 22 – Kavanaugh’s Hilltop – Rock Island, IL

April 26 – BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups – St. Louis, MO

April 27 – BB’s Lawnside BBQ – Kansas City, MO

April 28 – Uncle Bo’s Blues Bar – Topeka, KS 

April 29 – The Zoo Bar – Lincoln, NE

May 2 – Molly’s Bar – Tijeras, NM

May 4 – Hennessey’s Tavern Carlsbad – Carlsbad, CA

Here’s some photos from Orphan Jon and the Abandoned’s performance at Knuckleheads in Kansas City on April 20, 2018:

 

Orphan Jon English and Bruce Krupnik performing Friday April 20, 2017 at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads. ©2018 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair

 

Orphan Jon English and guitarist Bruce Krupnik performed Friday April 20, 2018 at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads. ©2018 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair

 

Guitarist Bruce Krupnik performed on tour with Orphan Jon and the Abandoned Friday, April 20, 2018 at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads. ©2018 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair
Bassist Tony Jack Grigsby performing Friday, April 20, 2018 at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads on a stop along their Midwest Tour. ©2018 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair

 

©2018 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair
Mike Malone performed with Orphan Jon and the Abandoned Friday, April 20, 2018 at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads. ©2018 Blues Insights/Peggy Stevinson Bair
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Rocky Road to Blues Roots: The Orphan Jon Story

Heather June ©2018
BluesInsights©2017PeggyStevinsonBair/JonEnglishBW5683
Cool cat Orphan Jon English slathers some blues on with legendary guitarist Bruce Krupnik during a June, 2017 performance at BB’s Lawnside BBQ in south Kansas City. ©Peggy Stevinson Bair/Blues Insights LLC All Commercial Rights Reserved.

 

Any musician who gets credited with being an overnight sensation knows that statement just makes for good headlines. In reality, the backstory for greatness is a road paved with more rocks than a prison quarry.

Even with the rising, seemingly quick success of blues singer/songwriter Orphan Jon English, he still informs his ever-growing fan base upfront from the microphone – “I was an orphan, abandoned as a little boy” – if nothing else, just to clear up how the name of the band came about. But there is nothing overnight about the success of Orphan Jon and the Abandoned and their new CD Abandoned No More. The inspiration for every song was decades in the making. In the words of the late, great Sunshine Sonny Payne: “Ya gotta live the blues before you play it.”

 

Orphan Jon English’s family, based on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California, was part of a long line of migrant workers who traveled from town to town, from state to state for work. When Jon’s mother was a young teen, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter, and soon another and another child was born every year or so until there were four more – all boys. In and out of the family’s life, the children’s father finally abandoned them. His mother, still young and rebellious, had less interest in her children than she did in hanging out in the bars. The State of California was finally called to look in on the unkempt, unsupervised kids. Beginning at eight months old, Jon and his three brothers were sucked into the California Social Services orphanages and foster care system.

Social Services had offered the all the children to their maternal grandparents. But his grandparents only wanted the oldest child, Jon’s sister Georgia, and declined to take the boys. It was three more years before his mother got the boys back. That reunion would only last a few short months.

 

A Child with No Home: Orphan Jon

Early Years of Abandonment

One day in 1970, a skinny, disheveled four-and-a-half-year-old boy peered out the window of a motel room looking for…waiting for…his mother to return. In tattered clothes and no shoes on his feet, surrounded by his three older brothers, all under the age of 10, the last memory Jon had of his mother was from the night before, when she cupped his face in her hands and kissed his cheek in a rare display of affection, leaving him with some last words: “Don’t you boys go running around all over the place.”

With that, and no warning, while they slept, she vanished and did not return.

That next day they woke up alone. The children had waited, pulling snacks of food from vending machines, running around anyway, barefoot and unattended – and eventually making their way up the road to the house of their mother’s sister.

His aunt took the four boys in, temporarily. But with many children of her own, the addition of four more rambunctious boys was too much for her and, after a short time, she reluctantly called social services – again.

The four boys were split up and taken to an orphanage.

Puzzled and alone again, the scrawny boy Jon, lay in the top bunk in the boys side of the dorm of the orphanage, hugging the emptiness and staring at the neon EXIT sign over the door located on the distant wall.

“Why? Why has this happened to me?” With tears streaming down his face, he waited for some word that their mother would return. Or, that someone…a family…would come forward to take them in.

Weeks went by, which turned into months.

Then, years.

Adopted, at Last

After spending his early years in and out of foster homes and dealing with many abuses by those that were supposed to be there to protect him, a day came when Jon was 10 that he and one of his older brothers got the news that the English family, with whom they had been living, would adopt them.

And that’s when the nightmare got bigger.

“The lady who took us in was very abusive,” said Jon, in a recent interview.

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Jon English, 8, left and his older brother Clarence, in the attire they arrived in from the orphanage in the summer of 1973. Two years later, the family adopted them. (photo and caption submitted from Jon English)

“Looking back, I see there’s so many different paths and directions my life took when I was young that I had no control over,” Jon said.

Because his brother Clarence was older and bigger and had more physical defenses, the younger and smaller Jon took the brunt of the physical and emotional abuse from their adoptive mother.

“When I was young, there were those moments when I hated her. I hated life. I wished for death.” Jon said.

The two brothers became slave labor to serve the adoptive family.

“My life was wrapped around doing chores. That’s all I did as a kid. My brother and I would get up early in the morning, fix our dad’s lunch and do chores before going to school, we never had any play time,” he remembered.

The dad in the family had his own problems and issues.

“He was gone all of the time,” Jon recalled. “He was a workaholic. He didn’t know until years later about the stuff she had done, he had no idea. Of course, when you’re a kid, you don’t think to say ‘Hey, Dad, there’s a lot going on here…’”

There was no one to tell.

Telling anyone about abuses was double-wrapped in the fear of losing the only real home he had come to know. As a result, Jon did what he hoped would keep him on the good side of his abuser.

“We cleaned the house constantly. We did all the floors and dust mopped them, did the dishes, cleaned the bedrooms, did the laundry. We’d go out in the yard and pull weeds in the flower beds and mow the lawns. That’s all we did day in and day out. Go to school, come home from school, do your homework, do the chores, do the dishes, go to bed,” Jon said.

And put up with the beatings, the ridicule, the loneliness and abandonment.

As Jon related his story, he was able to say that, over time, and from a much older viewpoint, he realized that his adoptive mother was one more link in a chain of child abuse – trapped in a cycle of her own life of abuse.

“I recalled the stories she told me when I was a child – about her stepdad and how he raped her…and just beat the crap out of her with a razor strap. It wasn’t until I was older and had an adult mind and I could look back and say ‘Wow, I see why she was the way she was.’ She was conditioned to do that. I don’t think she could look and say, ‘I can change this’ towards me,” Jon said.

Within the despair, however, were rhythms of hope – coming through the speakers of a record player. His adoptive mother would, in softened moments, invite his companionship to listen to her favorite songs.

“One positive thing she did is she would introduce me to music. I don’t remember truly listening to any music at all in my childhood until she came into my life. She loved Mozart, she loved The Everly Brothers – the harmony – Fats Domino and Marvin Gaye. So, I would listen to these songs – and she would encourage me to sing them.

And I discovered that when I did this, there were moments of affection shown towards me like a mother towards a child.

She liked the Everly Brothers. Those two guys can sing! I love their singing style, their harmony. As a child, I would imitate them, and she would sing with me.

There was just something about it [those moments] – as a child. That there was a peace and comfort, and compassion shown towards me. You don’t want to be left again,” Jon recalled.

Running Into Hope

Another path of hope came, a few years later, when Jon attended high school. He discovered he was really good at athletics. It was also a place where Jon’s adoptive father took notice of him.

“I was extremely dedicated to my athletics – running. I would get up early in the morning and run 10 miles a day. Here was my adopted dad who was an athlete [when he was younger] and it was something we could have in common, we connected with, so he started coaching us. I became one of the top runners in the Valley,” said Jon.

“It helped me channel my anger and frustrations in life at the time. I remember in high school that I never felt accepted because that’s just the way I am – never feeling like I belonged. Athletics allowed me the comraderie where I felt like I belonged because I was excelling in the sport that I was in.”

 

Orphan Jon English as a young athlete in high school found acceptance by excelling in sports. (submitted photos from Jon English)

 

Finding a Voice

Also, as a young teen, Jon found himself attracted to a young woman who was in chamber choir at his high school. In yet another fateful twist, he joined the choir to be near her.

“I was only in it for one semester, but it was enough to learn from an outstanding choral director in Mr. Mike McQuerrey. I learned to sing a capella, I learned pitch. I learned how to properly warm up your vocal chords And that was part of my life where I rediscovered that I had a voice,” Jon remembered.

Jon said that he still didn’t do anything with his singing until a bit later at the age of 16 when his adoptive grandmother – even more mean and abusive towards him than his adoptive mother – insisted Jon go to church with her…and sing. For Jon, in his never-ending effort to weave threads of obedience entwined with strands of abuse, a tapestry pattern was firmly set by then.

“I would do anything in my power to win over her affection and gain her acceptance,” Jon said.

The church was Jon’s first experience singing before an audience. In front of the tiny Pentecostal congregation of 10 or 15 people, his grandmother had asked him to sing “Why Me, Lord?” by Kris Kristoffersen. (shown here with grateful acknowledgment to the inimitable Kris Kristofferson.) (1)

Jon said the song was something he felt he could connect with, emotionally. His rendition apparently conveyed that emotion to the audience.

“People reacted so positive,” Jon said. “I felt like, ‘Hey, I’m liked by these people.’”

While his rendition of the Kristofferson song was well-received, his life was still void of true acceptance. He soon parted ways with his adopted grandmother and her church, and eventually found another church, one that was more conservative and was overwhelmingly immersed in old-time country gospel. The singing ministry in the new church offered something they called “Specials” wherein they would feature different singers from the church congregation to solo their favorite country gospel songs.

At some point, because he had become known for his singing voice at the previous church, all eyes turned to Jon to contribute his gift of voice.

“They sang something they called ‘Specials’ – songs by The Hansens, The Goodmans, The Bill Gaither Trio, etc. All country gospel artists,” Jon added. “So, I come along, and they came to me and they encouraged me. ‘You should sing a Special’ but I would respond to them ‘I’m not gonna sing a Special, I’m not a singer like that…a country gospel singer. It’s not me.’ But still they would insist ‘Oh, you are, too.’ So, finally I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.'”

“Well, I’m not going to sing country gospel,” Jon said he thought to himself. “I’m going to sing what I love, which is Black spirituals. There was something about the heart and soul in those gospel songs that hit home with me. And because of my love for Motown music. That’s what made the most sense to me as a singer.

“Thankfully I was encouraged by some of the young people in the church; because they remembered me from our high school Chamber Choir days. And by not singing what was expected, it was our way, the youth, of rebelling against the older, more conservative elders in the church. That was as rebellious as you could get. Forsake the normalcy of the country gospel and sing something completely different.” Jon let out one of his deep-toned, infectious laughs at the remembrance of those times.

One of those spirituals came from a Reverend FC Barnes’ songs called “Rough Side of the Mountain.”

“I wanted to do the song,” Jon said.  “So, the pastor’s granddaughter – she was an amazing pianist – and was a year younger than me. So, I said, I want to sing this song. And she was like ‘Whoa. That’s not like the Hansens or the Goodmans.’ I said, ‘No, but I think this is a song you would like.’

So, she was like, ‘okay, let’s try it.’

But I said, ‘I don’t want to sing it just like FC Barnes.’ So, with her help we devised my own style and interpretation of the song.”

Finding Acceptance

The stakes were high. The two young people – Jon and the minister’s granddaughter – knew the congregation would only accept Jon’s selection if the minister, himself, heard it and responded with approval – AND – the congregation would be looking to the minister before they decided how to react themselves.

“So, I get up there and I sing the special, ‘Rough Side of the Mountain'” Jon recalled, “with everybody in the congregation on pins and needles, waiting for Pastor, Rev. Jimmy S. Davis’ reaction. He just LOVED it!” Jon said.

(2)(youtube link with grateful acknowledgement to Rev. F. C. Barnes and Rev. Janice Brown) 

Jon felt he had followed an inner spirit, taken a chance and won over a skeptical audience. That cemented a connection for the former orphan – that his voice was a way to amplify his feelings but also gain acceptance. That experience became an inner vow.

“If I’m going to sing a song, I’m going to sing a song that is true to the heart. I’m not just going to go through the motions just to sing it. I never sang any song that I wrote or cover song that didn’t affect me.

Because singing is such an emotional expression,” Jon said.

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Jon English, singing at the church where his musical roots in front of an audience began. (photo submitted by Jon English) (3)

 

Parting Ways with his Adoptive Family

By the time Jon was 17, his adoptive family life had devolved into an unlivable chaos. His adoptive mother left his adoptive father when he was 14 and the home lost what shreds of stability it had. He left to live with his adoptive mother’s sister, Vickie, who had also attended the previously mentioned church with him along with his adoptive grandmother. She was a woman who was very kind to him. “She was the polar opposite of her sister,” Jon recalled.

Jon graduated high school and began his own life while continuing to attend the new Pentacostal church pastored by the Rev. Davis for the next 18 years. Through the church, he met his first wife, the mother of his children. During that period of years, Jon became a youth minister. He continued to sing in the church.

“I learned so much back then, especially how to sing and connect with the audience,” he said.

Though Jon and his first wife divorced in 2001, they made a joint decision to parent closely with their children. As a result, Jon and the mother of their children have a good relationship and their children grew into successful adults with loving parents.

The abandoned boy had grown into a man who turned a life of loneliness, bitterness and loss into a thriving family of his own and a large group of people at a church with whom he developed his gift of singing.

“It’s all based on acceptance,” Jon admitted.“Acceptance from my adopted mother; acceptance from my church; acceptance as an athlete from my peers and classmates. Everything I poured my heart and soul into because I always wanted to be accepted. That’s how it is for an abandoned kid. I feel like everything I went through as a child, as a young adult and a husband and a father, brought me to where I am today.”

Thankfully, the story does not end there but merely began new chapter – of songwriting, singing and an even more expanded family of musicians.

End – Part One.

Blues fans lucky enough to have caught the first Midwest tour in the summer of 2017 of  Orphan Jon English, with his band Orphan Jon and the Abandoned , will be thrilled to know that the band is booked for two shows in Kansas City this spring for their Abandoned No More CD release party tour. The fresh new CD is produced by Barry Levenson at Rip Cat Records.

OJATA is appearing once at Knuckleheads on Friday, April 20, 2018  on the north side of Kansas City and then once again at BB’s Lawnside BBQ April 27, 2018 on the south side of Kansas City. Orphan Jon and the Abandoned has whipped up a fresh batch of emotionally-charged blues lyrics by heralded songwriter Jon English with hypnotizing guitar licks by his bandmate and blues brother, Bruce Krupnik.

Here’s a little taste of where the Krupnik blues zone can take you (from the 2017 OJATA performance at BB’s Lawnside BBQ):

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Fair warning: For blues fans who relish being able to say they were among the first to see a hot band’s debut, these two appearance dates in Kansas City on the CD release tour for Abandoned No More are not only full of promise of great new original from-the-heart lyrics and music, but also a promise to be a part of a sweet niche of musical history. Fan-tastic tees will be available also featuring Heather June’s original graphic at the top of this story. Don’t even wonder: you will want one – and for now, that’s the only place they will be available is along the tour.

Blues Insights acknowledgements for contributions to this story:

(1) “Why Me Lord?” Kris Kristofferson. Kris Kristofferson website

(2) “Rough Side of the Mountain” by Rev. F. C. Barnes Chart History, Songs by Rev. F C Barnes and Rev. Janice Brown Rev. F. C. Barnes Classics at CD Universe

(3) Grateful acknowledgement to Orphan Jon English for his generous time and efforts as well as archival photographs and newspaper clippings.

(4) Grateful acknowledgement to artist Heather June for allowing the use of the Orphan Jon & The Abandoned logo for this article. Used with permission here but otherwise commercial rights reserved ©2018 Heather June.

(5) Video by Peggy Stevinson Bair, Blues Insights – Standard License youtube – may be view on Peggy Stevinson Bair youtube channel only. (No parts may be lifted and shown on other sites without prior written contractual permission.) ©2017 All permissions and commercial usage rights reserved and enforced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 – Great Summer of KC Blues

Rollin’ through on electric grooves this summer from California was Orphan Jon and the Abandoned – partnered up with Johnny Main and The 44’s. Hitting Kansas City twice in their tour of the Midwest, I first encountered OJATA at BB’s Lawnside BBQ – and was caught a bit off-guard when this beatnik looking daddy-o strolled up from out in the audience to grab the mic where the band had already fired up their first number. Jon English commenced to jiving and crooning, swaying a backside and raising his eyebrows invitingly at the audience over a pair of dark glasses – while a slim and seasoned Bruce Krupnik coaxed an electric cigar box guitar into a string-bending blues whine.

It became clear that we were all there to witness Orphan Jon having a good time and we could either join in or not – it was gonna happen…and it did happen. Everybody got bitten by the groove and pretty soon the place was hoppin.

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Jon English introduced himself to the Kansas City audience at BB’s Lawnside BBQ June 02, 2017 while touring with the band Orphan Jon and the Abandoned and Johnny Main’s The 44’s. His interactions with band members are contagiously enthusiastic – but his vocals bring a hot new blues sound to the fore. ©2017 Peggy Stevinson Bair

Then, Jon English stepped back as guitarist Bruce Krupnik entered a zone and took everyone into it with him. Fortunately, I managed to gather myself enough to capture a goodly clip of it. Grab your favorite beverage, close your eyes and have a listen – I promise you, he’ll be gentle but you are gonna feel it:

That song, “Leave My Blues Alone,” is on the Abandoned No More CD coming out on Rip Cat Records after the first of the year (2018) – so you get a first taste of here. Thankfully, my unprepared backside got a second chance to video this number entirely and live when OJATA did a loop back around to KC on the tail end of their Midwest Tour and graced the Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads a few days later. You want more than just a taste of this song? Well, here’s the 16 minute live version – with special guest Johnny Main injecting extra energy and mojo:

A lot more is coming here on Blues Insights about OJATA in the near future – as I truly believe in the amazing songwriting matchup of Jon English and Bruce Krupnik. But, yeah, even though the weather was balmy in the summer of 2017 – the Kansas City blues scene was hot, hot, hot.

Stay tuned (ha! get it?) for more as we will soon be discussing the upcoming CD: