Plays it All
by Lee Edgren
Take me to the stars with you,
I love you, you say, “you too,”
I can see both Venus and Mars in a Milkyway Honeymoon
Can’t you see us dancin’, Can’t you see us laughin’
Can’t you see us there on the face of the Moon
Wouldn’t it be crazy?
You and me my baby shining like a star
Satellite built for two…
Like the lyrics to his song “Milkyway Honeymoon,” which has a quirky tempo and jazz-inspired chord changes, John Whitcomb has a laid-back style and a personal story that is, even in a town filled with characters, pretty unusual. His guitar sound has been compared to that of Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, and Ronnie Montrose. And he can play it all—rock, country, honky tonk, rhythm and blues, jazz, and classical music.
He’s now at work on his third CD, which he hopes will come out in January or February, 2017. The as-yet-untitled album features the contributions of some well-known area artists, including Carolyn Dutton, Slats Klug, Dane Clark, Jason Ricci, and Andrea Swift. He’s recording with Rich Morpurgo at Midwest Audio in Bloomington.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag,” he says. “It harkens back to early jazz and blues, like Cab Calloway and Eubie Blake. It’s just tunes I’ve written, some new, some old, things I’ve wanted to get recorded for quite a while.”
He’s played on about 20 other albums, including those by Rick Wilson, David (not Dave) Matthews, and Curtis Moore.
By day, for about the past 20 years, he’s been The Village Painter here in Nashville, Indiana. Before becoming a painter, he led a colorful life as a full-time musician in Indy, California, and Nashville, Tennessee. He’s played with Jayne Bond and the Pink Martinis, a party cover band, since the mid-90s. And he’s the worship leader of the St. Paul United Methodist Church in Bloomington.
He won’t bring it up, and it isn’t in his publicity materials, but John’s father was Indiana Governor Edgar Whitcomb and his mother was a runway model. Whitcomb, who died in February, 2016 at the age of 98, was a colorful man who had been captured and tortured by the Japanese during WWII, ultimately escaping to China by swimming all night in shark-infested waters. He endured bitter
Republican party infighting during the time he was in office 1969–1973.
John was seven when his father took office and remembers the tension around late night phone calls from then-vice-president Spiro Agnew. “Growing up in a political family is one of the hardest environments,” John notes.”The one thing I learned how to do was change plans in a second.”
One year, John Mellencamp rented the Whitcomb’s lake house in Seymour. “I took private lessons with Dave Parman. I was 13 years old and Dave was John Mellencamp’s bass player at the time. I hung out at the house with Mellencamp ‘like a horse fly.’”
John credits his older sisters with his exposure to contemporary music as he grew up. “We learned a lot by taping a quarter to a phonograph needle. It slowed it waaaay down, but didn’t change the key. That really helped my ear. ”
The bedrock in John’s life is his family and his strong Christian faith, which led him to several years in Indianapolis’s The Vineyard Community Church’s praise band and to his CD Soul Check. John’s first two albums, Recollections of the Boy and Soul Check are not currently available, although some cuts from Soul Check are available on ReverbNation. “I’d always had faith. I was raised in the Methodist church, always believed in God. What was new and different in the Vineyard band was the absolute feeling of God’s presence.” John and his wife Terri have also been active in mission work in Burma (now Myanmar), China, and Mexico, as well as in several states here in the United States.
“I played in several bands through high school. After high school I found the ‘honky tonk’ circuit. That was five nights a week for six years.” Wanting to be out of that life, John enrolled at the Musician’s Institute in the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) in Hollywood, California. By the time he graduated, he was good enough to be invited to play on the student album. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee and worked in a corporate cover band for close to three years.
His father invited him on a sailing trip around the world, but chronic seasickness brought John’s trip to an early end. “I found my way back to Indiana and played in the American Cabaret Theater’s pit band, playing Broadway musicals.”
When John and Terri met, John said, “I had done enough road work, done that lifestyle, I’d played with major artists in Nashville. Once I saw what the road was all about, I didn’t want it. I met Terri and the kids and that was what I wanted most. I learned how to love a family through my wife. And I really liked it.” They have raised two girls and a son. Amber, their oldest girl, her husband Ryan, and their three children live in Bloomington, as does second daughter Tabitha.
In 2014, John, Terri, and their son Zach, were featured in an episode of NBC’s Dateline. Zach and his fiancé were in Japan, but in different locations. Their communication was ended by the huge tsunami of that year. Zach was compelled by love to reunite with her, despite being refused entry to the city she was in. Living through their separation was agonizing, but the story had a happy ending. Zach and his wife and their toddler son now live together in New Zealand.
And now, John is focused on writing and performing more original songs and on doing a bit more touring. He’s playing more local venues as well. “Like Johnny Winter said, ‘It’s not about competition, it’s about communication.”