John Fullbright, playing a writers-in-the-round with Jess Klein tonight at Anderson Fair, looks like the kid at the grocery store sacking groceries or gathering carts from the parking lot. The innocent look masks an old-soul singer-songwriter and one of the hottest youngsters in the folk/roots/Americana musical nation.
A regular one-man band who plays guitar, piano, accordion and harmonica, this youngster from Okemah, Okla. - yes, Woody Guthrie's hometown! - is, astonishingly, as seasoned a writer as he is performer.
Greg Johnson, longtime owner of Oklahoma City listening room Blue Door, is managing Fullbright.
"I took him to Folk Alliance and they just went nuts for him," says Johnson. "Right now I'm talking with some labels like Rounder, just looking for a record deal that works. And if we don't find one that's right, we'll just book some time in a little studio and do an album.
"It's funny, but he's got all kinds of people wanting to produce him, guys like Kevin Welch. And Jimmy Webb is one of his biggest fans."
Fullbright is the prototypical droll Oklahoman in the extreme, and seems like a guy with his head on straight.
"I just get out and play my gigs and try not to worry about the money or making some big move," says Fullbright.
Even though he is from Okemah, Fullbright didn't know much about Woody Guthrie until the last couple of years.
"Yeah, growing up if you asked any of the old men around town about Woody, it was always 'that commie red sumbitch, you know, so we really didn't talk about Woody much in Okemah.
Then the festival came along and now it's "God bless Woody" around here. He sells a lot of hamburgers and motel rooms, you know?"
Fullbright got into the singer-songwriter game about four years ago when he graduated high school. Like a lot of youngsters, he says "I kinda worked my way backward through things.
Like I'll hear Kenny Rogers version of "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)" and then I'll say 'Who wrote that?' And the next thing you know, I've found Mickey Newbury, who is probably my biggest writing influence."
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Johnson laughs about Webb, who by the time he was 19 had written "Galveston," "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get To Phoenix," adopting the young Fullbright and becoming one of his mentors.
"When Jimmy saw John play, he told me 'that kid's not only great, he's got the intangibles you can't teach'," says Johnson. "But I think the thing that Jimmy told John that really turned his head around was 'now John, don't let those sons-of-bitches push you around"
Webb also happens to be in the Houston area, playing Dosey Doe in the Woodlands tonight. Tomorrow and Sunday, Fullbright opens for Webb at the Blue Door back in OKC.
9 p.m tonight at Anderson Fair, 2007 Grant, 832-212-4057.