It is Bunzow’s mix of eclectic musical influences – melding blues, country, rock and even jazz – that have helped establish him as an original artist of heartfelt depth, substance and style. He’s as likely to draw on his love of the music of scuffling barroom bard Tom Waits as he is the smooth R&B and soul of Marvin Gaye, the iconic folk wisdom of Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Ry Cooder or the blues of Albert King.
After beginning his musical career in the Northwest scene playing in popular all-original bands for over two decades, John set his sights on songwriter heaven – Nashville – scoring a songwriting contract with EMI Nashville/Famous Music and a recording contract with Liberty/Capitol Records. He quickly found his services in big demand with Nashville recording artists and had the opportunity to write for and perform with some of country and rock music’s biggest names.
As Nashville and country-music trends shifted away from salt-of-the-earth working singer-songwriters in favor of flavor-of-the-month cover models and green-behind-the-ears young guns in Stetsons, Bunzow packed up his guitars and music notebooks and brought himself home to Portland, Oregon where he continues to hone his sizable talents. He’s found old fans and new ones as he tirelessly tours Northwest nightclubs, concert halls, festival stages, casinos, wineries and resorts, playing original cuts from his most recent CDs, including Concrete Paradise, Counterfeit Salvation, Darkness and Light, Alive at O’Connor’s and Off the Shelf, and creating music that touches the heart of anybody who’s ever raised a little hell on a Saturday night, or felt the pangs of a love gone bad.
With his 2020 CD, Concrete Paradise, John Bunzow continues to establish himself as an inspired and innovative American roots singer/songwriter/guitarist of depth, substance and groove.
The Portland, Oregon, native has been called one of the finest roots writers-musicians. Producer Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam, Meat Puppets, Steve Forbert) said he is “…without doubt the best artist I’ve heard in recent times.” Chicago Tribune columnist Jack Hurst credits Bunzow with mixing “the rootsy with the revolutionary.”
Bunzow, now based in Portland, has built a long and storied career. Infused early with a strong love of Southern music John has developed his own unique fusion of roots rock and blues, seasoned with everything from reggae and country rock to pop. He counts among his “Mt. Rushmore of influences,” as he puts it, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Tom Waits, Mike Bloomfield, Albert King, country picker Jerry Reed, Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman, Steve Earle, and Jerry Garcia, among many.
During his early years, Bunzow performed with bands that favored original music, as well as working as a solo singer/songwriter and even trafficking in a country music tour of truck stops and county fairs. John found himself bouncing around various music scenes including San Francisco, Seattle and LA. But it was in Nashville that his songwriting created new opportunities, Bunzow says. “My focus was always as a songwriter, and that is what brought me to Nashville – twice.”
Bunzow’s second Nashville sojourn resulted in a songwriting deal with EMI and a recording contract with Liberty Records (Capitol Records). His 1996 Pete Anderson-produced CD, Stories of the Years, was critically acclaimed by press and radio. Music journalists proclaimed him one of the brightest new talents on music’s horizon. The Gavin Report raved, “John Bunzow is a songwriter’s songwriter and could be the catalyst in Nashville’s eventual shift out of its hyper-hat mode.”
Following the Liberty Records label release, Bunzow divided his time between playing on recording sessions and playing for alternative country artists including Chris Knight and Allison Moorer, and writing for Famous Music. He has had his songs recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Patty Loveless, and artist Jack Ingram (produced by Steve Earle/Ray Kennedy) as well as being featured in major motion pictures.
As a performer, Bunzow has played Farm Aid, the Grand Ole Opry, and toured throughout Europe, as well as being featured in videos and programming on CMT. He has opened shows for or shared stages with such varied acts as Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, John Hiatt, Todd Snider, Carl Perkins, Allison Krauss, Trisha Yearwood and John Mellencamp.
The wheels nearly came off the bus after his permanent return to the Pacific Northwest. “I made some risky lifestyle choices and got off the rails for awhile,” he says. And if that wasn’t enough, add to those struggles a life-threatening battle with some serious health issues that sidelined him for a spell. As John puts it, “I had a few detours along the way.”
But with intense personal struggle comes new resolve. Bunzow earned a masters degree in education to teach at-risk youth, and got more deeply into his music. Then he put himself back on an intense discipline of songwriting and performing, collected himself, and in 2016 headed back to the comfortable confines of Nashville and a familiar cadre of studios, musicians and engineers. In one week he produced and delivered “Counterfeit Salvation,” an 11-song reflection of where his life has taken him.
Bunzow continues to write and perform solo and with his band throughout the Pacific Northwest and contributes his songs and guitar playing to various recording projects.
“I am blessed and lucky to have come out the other side,” he says. “I feel fortunate and am looking forward to writing and playing in a full-time, focused way. It was great to go to Nashville and work with old and new friends. But it’s also a blessing to play with my Portland guys. Walkin’ on the bright side of the road.”
(Musician, Journalist, Author)
“One of the most exciting singer-songwriters out there.”
Multiple Grammy Winner.
(Dwight Yoakam, Meat Puppets, Steve Forbert)
“John destroys the boundaries between great rock, country, r&b, and soul music by owning his noteworthy sound with respect to the great artists who came before.”
Five time Grammy winner. Producer, Engineer, Musician
(Steve Earle, Billy Joe Shaver)
“Those are some damn good songs son.”
The late Delaney Bramlett
(Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, Eric Clapton, Duane and Gregg Allman)
“John was in Portland and I was in Nashville, so we started working long-distance. Trying to get to know each other and figure these songs out. My first clue to who John is was the 9×12 scuffed up manila envelope that showed up in my actual mailbox (not the virtual one). Inside was a real CD (not an iCloud link), with real songs, and many dog-eared pages torn out of a yellow legal-pad, and in John’s scrawl his personality coming through – funny, insightful, slap-dash, and humble. The record was already feeling real, and we hadn’t even started.”
“And that’s how it went from there – four or five musicians in a room, some just met, playing the way the moment tells them to, getting to know each other through the groove, the way the best musicians do. Without a click track telling them to behave, without a suit in the corner telling them what would sell. From John’s point of view, goddammit he had earned this moment, and was going to enjoy it. And the joy shows, does it not? Just put on the first couple bars of “Detour,” you’ll see what I mean…”
Producer, Engineer, Musician.
(Hayes Carll, Chuck Prophet)
“It was a pleasure playing guitar on John’s new CD. Authentic and soulful songs. Hope I get to do it again!”
(Bob Dylan, Shelby Lynne)
“At last, new music from my ol’ buddy and it’s just what I would expect! Honest and gritty. John is in fine form from songwriting, singing, playing to producing. A great listen from top to bottom. John continues to make great music!”
Tammy Rogers King
(2015 Grammy winners the Steeldrivers)
“John is one of the most gifted singer-songwriters and guitar players I’ve had the pleasure of working for many years. Always digging for some new musical rabbit hole to crawl into.”
Brian David Willis
Sound Engineer/Editor, Musician
“Love working with John. Very soulful musician and songwriter. Do yourself a favor and check out his records”
(James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon)
“Done a lot of gigs and sessions with JB over the years. John’s a triple threat. A gifted singer, songwriter and picker. One of the best.”
(Member of Neil Young’s The International Harvesters, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam)
“…one of the best singer/songwriters in the business, a true song poet.”
The late Patsi Bales Cox
(New York Times Bestselling author)
“The swampy roots-country groove of the leading track “Love is the Only Rescue” suggests more than a live basement studio recording from a Portland, Oregon native with a kick ass band. It cuts through to the soul to suggest that there is one heck of a great record to follow. And it does deliver the goods! Darkness and Light expresses solid songwriting through an organic and vibrant direct to tape performance. Bunzow’s songs easily sway from rich country rumblers and ballads to blues-infused stingers. Imagine Buddy Miller with hints of Robbie Fulks in his easier moments. Years of performance experience (he’s slung guitar for Chris Knight and Allison Moorer) and noteworthy critical praise as a Nashville songwriter are quite evident here. An unlucky label dissolve in ’96 put one potential release back in the can, but we’re sure that Darkness and Light will bring John Bunzow the success he deserves.”
Miles of Music
“Nashville by way of Portland singer/songwriter John Bunzow’s Darkness and Light is a blues-infused roots-rock record, a well-produced collection of eleven songs rooted in tradition; yet stylistically and lyrically, it offers up more than your average roots-rock record. The dusty country grooves alongside this burning rock n’ roll fever catapulted by Bunzow’s love for blues and R&B, make this a rich, lively album to sink yourself into as Bunzow wins you over song after song.”
“From free-for-all rock ‘n’ roll jaunts to tender, laid back numbers, Bunzow covers the gamut, opening up himself to you through the music. Meanwhile, he keeps things cohesive enough that you know its him, but diverse enough to ensure you don’t grow tired or weary of the album. The result is a fine-tuned, strong piece of roots-rock that will put a smile on your face and give you at least one reason to believe that Nashville hasn’t killed the soul of roots music. I’ll give it an A-.”
Alex Steinberg, In Music We Trust
Issue Fifty-Two/September 2002
“This roots rocker shows his influences without being held back by them. This guitar-driven disc at times displays a wide variety of influences – from Albert King to Dylan, early Carl Perkins to Jerry Reed – sometimes in one song. It is a melting pot of eclecticism as far as the songwriting and guitar playing is concerned. His tunes carry much of that twang that is associated with hillbilly rock & roll, but it comes across through a filter of the ’60s/’70s music scene that was percolating just under the horizon of FM music. He wrote or co-wrote all the tunes on this disc and each one is a good fit. He has the nasally vocals and the jangly guitars that sell each song as part of the whole. He has a variety of tunes, from the rocker that opens the disc, “Love Is the Only Rescue,” through the funky “Muddy Water Under the Bridge,” and there are some heartbreak pieces and a few that just won’t fit any category. He also has some great help on this disc, including Allison Moorer, Richard Bennett, and Jimmy Hall. This is a strong disc that rips into each new song with a strong ferocity that brings the song home. You should hear more from John Bunzow in the future.”
Bob Gottlieb, All Music Guide
“…Both musically and lyrically, Bunzow has an impressive grasp of his craft and such a strong and unique voice, and his songs are defined both by their diversity and the distinct sense of unity running through them. Themes of disillusionment, new found hope, distrust and making a new start are more than common in folk music, and it’s a sign of Bunzow’s talents that he tackles these subjects respectfully and in a refreshing manner….on the whole Bunzow has made a stunningly passionate and refreshingly contemporary country album.”
Stein Haukland, Ink 19
“Never heard of this Bunzow character before, but after this CD I’ll be damned if I forget him. Starting off with a loping, guitar-busy Dave Edmunds-sounding track (Love is the Only Rescue) turned on it’s side by his Robbie Fulks-like vocals, Bunzow begins his disc in fine stead. You might not believe me when I say it gets better from there, shit, I’m not sure I believe it myself, but it does. It doesn’t hurt that Bunzow has drafted such talents as Dan Dugmore (session vet and player on Linda Ronstadt’s best tracks from the 70’s) on pedal steel and Allison Moorer on harmony vocals. Despite Bunzow being a flash guitar player with plenty of tasty licks, his vocals and fine songs are what carry the day and the guitar solos never once take away from the fact that this is a country record. Sure, its got a Southern rock vibe happening but this is one country boy who’s unashamed of his roots. A damn fine, damn fine CD.”
Bill Frater, Freight Train Boogie
“…we should keep an eye on John Bunzow, and I, for one, will go out of my way to see him live.”
“John’s CD is among the best I’ve heard these last months! Consider me a fan.”
Paul van Gelder, GEEN TIJD/Varas Radio 1
“It’s the kind of record that belongs in the upper regions of the Americana/Roots charts.”
Theo Oldenburg, ALT.COUNTRY COOKING, Radio Winschoten
“This is how roots music is supposed to be. John Bunzow is the best hidden talent I know.”
Roel Stabler, Music Director, Radio MG
“Ex-house painter John Bunzow throws formula country songwriting out the window on his arresting debut Stories of the Years. Blending an amiable tenor with economy of language and the minimalistic production of Dwight Yoakam collaborator Pete Anderson, Bunzow makes no secret of his influences — Tom T. Hall on the title song, Merle Haggard on ”Poison Mem’ries” — but uses them merely as jumping-off points for an inventive romp. Grade: A”
Alanna Nash, Entertainment Weekly
“…folks who actually heard the album were surprised to discover a refreshingly direct, no-nonsense record that had more in common with Steve Earle’s best work than any dance-club pretty boys. The CD’s opener, “Desolation Road,” starts things off right with a kickin’ rhythm section and propulsive slide guitar that’s perfectly matched to Bunzow’s mournful delivery. His vocals get even better on ballads, and producer Pete Anderson smartly chooses sparse arrangements that are still interesting enough to complement, rather than just support, the songs. … Bunzow’s songs are of a consistently high quality… be it a surprising melodic twist or a memorable turn of phrase.”
Pemberton Roach, All Music Guide
“A songwriter’s writer, John Bunzow could be the catalyst in Nashville’s eventual shift out of hyper-hat mode. Stories Of The Years is one hell of an impressive debut from this Portland, Oregon native who spent some years doin’ the Nashville thing before laying down an impressive demo that caught the ears and interest of producer Pete Anderson. A shot of James Taylor mixed with a twinge of Dwight Yoakam’s nasal twang, Bunzow’s voice is a most pleasant blend, bringing conviction to the country rockers “Muddy Water Under The Bridge,” “Ain’t No Little Thing” and my pick to click, “Easy As One, Two, Three.” Bunzow writes real honest country songs that don’t get lost in any pop sensibilities. One run through “Poison Mem’ries” hammers that point home. With a natural ability to convey the stories and characters of his songs with such ease, be it the trucker in the opening “Desolation Road” or the closing title track, John Bunzow is bound for a very bright future. ”