There is a legend about JD McPherson. Published in a 2015 issue of Rolling Stone, it claims that the Oklahoma rock and roll revivalist got fired from his teaching job for giving a Bad Brains CD to a student.
“It didn’t exactly go down that way,” McPherson laughs. “I did give a 15 year old a Bad Brains CD when he came into my office, and I was listening to it and he asked ‘What’s this?’ And it was Bad Brains’ second record. He said ‘This would be really cool to work out to’—he was the soccer captain—so I gave it to him and as he left the room I thought ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have given a Bad Brains CD to a 15 year old kid, but that’s fine.’”
The truth behind the legend is that, McPherson was fired for being a “terrible employee.”
“I couldn’t keep up with the paperwork and I was a very micro authority figure and I guess I didn’t macro enough,” McPherson says. “I’m essentially 15 years old mentally, so I fit in really well with the kids anyways.”
Leaving teaching gave McPherson a real chance to focus on his music. Taking inspiration from icons he grew up listening to like Link Wray, Joe Strummer, Chuck Berry, and Chrissy Hines, McPherson has released four full length LPs, most recently Undivided Heart & Soul in 2017 and his Christmas album Socks in 2018.
“I lived on a ranch in Oklahoma and it had a big impact on how I ended up getting into different types of music,” McPherson says. “My family would go to the store in Fort Smith, Arkansas across the Oklahoma border, and I would call ahead and order three CDs and grab a bunch of magazines like Creem or something and then order the next batch for the next time we went into town.”
McPherson had an obsession with music growing up—he still does—and due to the “total isolation” he experienced living on the ranch, there was really nothing else to do.
“If you had a proclivity to a certain thing you had all the time in the world to develop that. So I didn’t want to do anything else but draw, shoot video, play guitar and listen to music.”
During the development of Undivided Heart & Soul McPherson was unsure of how or where he would take his music.
“I was in a bit of a funk and little bit unsure of what was happening,” McPherson says.
He even considered dropping the whole thing entirely, but a fan and big figure in the music industry invited him to play a show which essentially allowed Undivided Heart & Soul to happen.
“I met Josh Homme in the El Paso airport. He had been listening to my records and he came up and gave me a big hug and invited me to play this Queens [of the Stone Age] show in LA with The Kills,” McPherson says. “So all of a sudden here’s this giant figure—literally a giant figure—just being a cheerleader for you. And the more we talked I think he realized I was out of it. He had this idea to come out to California, hang out and play music together. It was like a musical spa where I could totally reset my brain.”
McPherson needed to realize why he got into making music.
“I just saw the Quincy Jones documentary and he has this quote saying that the minute you’re in the studio and you think about money or marketing or radio, ‘God walks out of the room. Don’t think about anything other than what you’re making.’ So that’s what Josh did for me. He helped me get back on track.”
Now McPherson is using his newfound confidence to produce new music with guys like Dan Auerbach and Eric Church, but we probably won’t hear any of it until 2020.
“I don’t want to rush this one,” McPherson says. “You want the right vibe when you’re recording and for me, it’s that moment of being a 15 year old in your room jamming on the guitar.”
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