Music is home for singer-songwriter John Bunzow

by: COURTESY PHOTO - John Bunzow will play original tunes at McMenamins Grand Lodge this weekend. His mix of roots rock and songcraft found success in Nashville.Since John Bunzow returned home to Oregon six years ago from music mecca Nashville, Tenn., the singer, songwriter and guitarist has traded bygone days as an in-demand country rock artist for the more refreshing pace of the Pacific Northwest, where he can write freely in the peace and quiet of his own living room.

After breaking from the music industry, Bunzow became a teacher for at-risk youth in Portland. Now, he is enjoying his time off and slowly getting back into the swing of things.

He's listening to lots of music — rhythm and blues, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, and many of the musicians that so heavily influenced him growing up and throughout his career.

At least three nights a week, much to the delight of new and old fans, Bunzow can be found in music venues around town playing live shows, acoustic guitar solo shows or with an electric axe and his tight-knit rhythm section, bass player Rich Gooch and drummer Tom Royer.

Known for his eclectic mix of influences ranging from Dylan and Waits to Elvis Costello and Merle Haggard, Bunzow will perform solo for a free show at McMenamins Grand Lodge's Garage Door venue on Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.

Nashville days

Growing up and as a young guitar player attending the University of Oregon in the 1970s, Bunzow absorbed the sounds of Albert King, Michael Bloomfield, Jerry Reed and Kenny Burrell.

Then again, he loved all styles of music. Blues, rock, R&B, reggae, singer-songwriting, country, jazz — “I liked it all,” said Bunzow. He followed the trail of American roots music starting with his favorites, the country rock of Graham Parsons and Neil Young and the electric blues of Eric Clapton.

Listening to the musical influences of his influences led Bunzow back to hear country artists like Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and blues originals, Muddy Waters and B.B. King.

Today, Bunzow continues to draw upon his eclectic taste, even drawing inspiration from Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk. “I really liked all genres,” he said.

Bunzow began playing professionally in Eugene and toured in bands locally in the Pacific Northwest for 20 years before setting out to the country’s songwriting capital — Nashville — where songwriting became his primary focus.

Eventually, Bunzow signed with EMI (Famous Music) and Liberty (Capitol) Records for songwriting and recording. So far, he’s put out four records.

Bunzow wrote and performed with some of country and rock's biggest names including Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young. His songs were recorded on projects by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Patty Loveless and Jack Ingram. “It was a good time for my music,” said Bunzow.

Good enough that Bunzow stayed in Nashville for 15 years, until “things really started to change,” he said.

Finding a home

As the country music scene shifted in Nashville, Bunzow found his singer-songwriting style didn't fit with the young new pop talents the bigwig industry was looking for, so he packed up his guitars and headed home around 2006.

Living in Portland, Bunzow found greater opportunity to tour and play music live, “which is something I just always have to do,” he said.

Now surrounded by a supportive circle of like-minded songwriters and creative musicians, Bunzow continues to focus on his songwriting.

Stylistically, Bunzow says his music is always changing, but he is trying to settle back into the rhythm and blues that have for so long influenced his writing and performances.

Lately, and always, he is inspired by Dylan's revolutionary content and Waits' wayward lyrics. “They are as good as it gets,” said Bunzow.

“Their music is genuine and they get the point across,” he said. “They communicate through their music.”

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