Featuring Jimmy Lavalle of the Album Leaf on bass, and Matt Resovich of the Album Leaf and Black Heart Procession on Fiddle.
“His sound puts me in mind of Whiskeytown’s classic, Strangers Almanac, Uncle Tupelo, and the solo work of Old 97s’ Murry Hammond. But at the same time, “Been Down by Love” could have fit in perfectly on Doves’ superb offering from 2009, Kingdom of Rust. Like Ryan Adams with humility… Gene Autry would approve.” —Pop Matters
“It isn't as if Meeks has spent more than a decade trying to come up with some complex musical formula. In fact, what is so compelling about Meeks' music is his simple, straightforward approach. The three acoustic, country-twinged songs are free of artifice, aren't overly produced or orchestrated, and sound effortless.” —National Public Radio (NPR)
“Meeks hasn’t created anything that’ll have Nashville scouts beating down his door (that’s a good thing), but he’s produced three DIY songs that compare with anything being produced south of the Mason Dixon.” —San Diego CityBeat
“Despite the disregard for tradition in contemporary art and society, the peaceful, nostalgic songs of John Meeks stay true to his roots by sharing his wanderings from around the country and pulling musical influence from his family before him.” —Sezio.org
San Diego isn’t exactly known as being an epicenter for alt-country, but it should be. Look at it this way: San Diego is the nexus of the vice universe. We’ve got the big, bad brother to the north, the neon lights of the devil’s playground about five hours away and, if you think that’s bad, we’re also about 20 minutes away from a city so seedy, you’ll need to bring your birth certificate just to get back. Yeah, the musicians here live hard, love hard and don’t care if they happen to get a farmer’s tan along the way.
But the music of John Meeks isn’t so much focused on the pitfalls and pit stops that come with troubadourism, but rather the roads in between them. Every musician will tell you, the best songs aren’t written in the heat of the moment, but in the quiet moments they have while traveling on heartworn highways and through dusty deserts. A tumbleweed may be lone, but it still has a story.
And the gospel according to John Meeks is as storied and sorted as any you’ll find in Americana or country music. To say that he has music in his genes and miles in his jeans is risking disingenuousness. His grandfather was a guitar player in a country band from Sikeston, Missouri, a town that happily totes its “Redneck BBQ.” Two of the members of that band, AJ Nelson and Onie Wheeler, went on to share the stage with Elvis Presley and Roy Acuff while the latter dropped dead on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Touche, sir.
Mama Meeks snuck out of her parent’s house when she was 17 to marry John Meeks, Sr in Juarez, Mexico. Upon returning to Albuquerque, she spent most of her senior year in high school pregnant with John Jr. When Meeks was a little boy, his dad would shuttle little John all around New Mexico to play gigs in bars. Watching his daddy play, the female waitresses would get Jr. all jacked up on cheap Shirley Temples (with extra cherries) and teach him how to two-step. After his parents divorced, Meeks and his mother roamed around the southwest in a Chrysler New Yorker, before finally settling in San Diego. Not a bad way to spend your formative years.
And like dad, Meeks had a natural knack for drums and percussion, playing in the marching band in high school which he continued with a brief stint at the University of New Mexico where, poor and impoverished, he would sleep on top of the music building and use the theater department’s showers when he could. One nervous breakdown, some serious downtime with an acoustic guitar back in S.D., a brief foray playing indie-rock and some righteous nights with the wrong women all leads us to the now.
If the information above serves any real purpose other than giving you a little background on the man, it’s almost certainly a proper primer for his debut album, Old Blood (Loud + Clear). Made over the course of two years with a who’s-who of local musicians including the Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle and Matt Resovich, Black Heart Procession’s Pall Jenkins, and producer Brad Lee, it’s roots music that actually has roots. The tears are real, the demons are real, and the emotion in which it’s all delivered is surely real. That’s not just the skeleton of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” you hear on “I’m Alone, I Am Lonely.” It’s the sound of Meeks trying his best to exorcise his own skeletons out of the closet. And then there’s that voice. Tender, but true. Stoic, but soulful. Among the horns and fiddle accompaniment on “Been Down by Love,” when he sings “I’ve known love, I’ve known pain,” you just can’t help but believe him.
He could surely move to Austin, Atlanta or hell, even Brooklyn and get more national buzz, but the fact that he’s been able to garner a respectable following in his adopted hometown is proof alone of his talent as a singer-songwriter. For Meeks, geography is everything and nothing at the same time. Old Blood is for anyone who remembers the glory days of AM radio. For anyone who ever wondered what the hell Mick Jagger was talking about on “Far Away Eyes.” But above all, it’s for anyone who’s had the moon on their hood, the stars in their rear view, and the wonderment that comes with not knowing what tomorrow will bring. It’s enough to make you wish No Depression was still around. They would surely break out the good bourbon for this one.