Sun King Rising – The Early Years
by Karyn Mueller for The Lowdown Coming up with a blog idea can at times be a challenge. I’ve written about the songs, the recording process, and at times just a post to say “hi – we’re still here!” But my favorite subject is the artist himself. I posed these few questions to SKR and would like to share his words with you in this week’s post.
Karyn:: "Tell us your story. When did you first discover music? When did you first know you were an artist? Did you take lessons or are you self-taught?"
John: I first started playing piano at the age of five. I learned to read music and took lessons for five years. My teacher was a delightful grandmother figure who only had me play hymns. which she would sing loudly in my ear! I did learn some of the tricks of gospel, although my teacher was not happy with my propensity to go rogue and improvise. Of course, I ultimately rebelled against this and quit lessons. I didn't start playing piano again until about 15 years of age when Ron Dominicis and I (and a few others) started our first rock band. I started writing songs at the piano but did not play keyboards live at that point. I was the front man. We were unique for our area because we played a majority of original tunes versus covers.
As we started to become more progressive, I began to play keyboards on stage in order to fill out the sound behind Ronnie's virtuoso soloing. Mainly, I stuck with piano and string sounds, although I took the occasional solo on synthesizer. Ron and I began to seriously write some quite complex music, both rhythmically complex and harmonically complex. Both of us went to university together and I started to take some music theory courses. I have been enamored with music theory ever since. I learned how to do rudimentary orchestrations but was more profoundly interested in modern harmony. After my bachelor's degree, I basically gave up music to concentrate on science. Twenty years later, I felt a real gap in my life and returned to music.
However, instead of continuing with the complex music I had previously played, I went completely in the other direction towards the simplicity of the blues and southern rock. Playing in a band again reinvigorated my interest in playing piano and organ. While I read charts, I rarely read music these days. I prefer the more improvisatory approach. My piano playing began to substantially improve not only from playing live, but also from spending more time practicing.
Eventually, I heard the call to return to progressive rock and began to write in a much more symphonic style including elaborate orchestrations. I have written an entire album that will eventually be finished as part of my progressive rock band, Harlequin Reborn. But again I was called back to the more organic blues, soul, and southern rock forms that are part of my DNA. I love the piano playing of Leon Russell, Elton John, Bruce Hornsby and others and have studied their compositions and chord phrasings. SKR music is an amalgam of these influences with a bunch of rhythm and blues thrown in as part of a southern mélange of influences. Of course, I still fall into my old habits of prog rock chord progressions which, occasionally, the savvy reviewer picks up on. I am currently writing the songs for the second album and they are basically complete. It is quite a mix but is more sophisticated musically than the first SKR album, Delta Tales.
This next album is letting me stretch out as a singer/songwriter. I hope people will like it!