A new genre of music has been born. It’s called "purple blues"and is the unique creation of Lebanon band JJGunn. The sound is “rock, blues, jazz and a little bit of soul,” and the lyrics are motivational.
“It’s how we look at our surroundings and people,” says band manager Jimmy Mast. “How we find positive people to be around.”
The uplifting messages behind the music of JJGunn come from writer and producer John Bieschke (Johny B). There is a certain irony to Bieschke’s musical optimism.
In his youth, he moved from Baltimore to Detroit to pursue his dream. He was a member of the 80’s heavy metal band Seduce, who had received a record a record deal from from I.R.S. Metal. One night during a concert, Bieschke had too much to drink and put his hand straight through a metal glass.
“It took away his playing, destroyed his dream and vision for life,” says Mast somberly.
Bieschke moved into motivational speaking for many years. One day, while in the shower, he went to reach for something and his thumb popped out. Bieschke began playing again little by little.
“It’s taken him 20 maybe 30 years to get back where he is today," said the band's general manager, John Martin.
“A little more than three years ago, we started doing this on our own,” says Mast, who met Johny B in 1999. “Johny started writing songs, we started going into the studio, we hired musicians, we cut records - we did as much as we could,”
Their work culminated into the band JJGunn about a year ago. Their first album “Who I Am” was recorded with studio musicians. Their most recent album “Unsung Heroes,” Mast says, “Has more of a JJGunn identity.”
The band dynamic is essential to Bieschke. Mast believes this is because he has a gift for enabling artists to grow
“He loves seeing people step into what they are destined to be,” says Mast proudly.
JJGunn is a four-piece band with Bieschke as the lead singer, Bobby Fry as bassist, Mark Reilly on keyboard and Eric Gunther on drums. John Martin is newer to working with Bieschke than Mast, but is equally enamored with him and the rest of the band.
“We are surrounded by guys who are legends or should be considered legends,” says Martin.
Bieschke isn’t the only member of the band who's “gone through the ringer,” as Martin puts it. Fry has been a musician since the age of 17, shortly after playing his appendix exploded. Martin says he almost died.
“It kind of woke him up to show him how much talent he had that was almost stolen away, and it just drove him,” says Martin.
Fry is now known among his bandmates as able to play with anyone just by ear with little to no practice.
“Minute details about a song he’ll be like ‘we should change this’ and it works so well every time,” laughs Martin.
Keyboardist Mark Reilly grew up in Baltimore in the same area as Bieschke.
“It’s kind of funny how it worked. We kind of picked the best from an area,” says Martin.
Eric Gunther was one of their original drummers. Martin explains that they have had many changes when it comes to drummers, but no ill feelings. The name JJGunn comes from the original band mates, Johny, Jack, Bobby and Eric. JJ for Johny and Jack and Gunn for Eric Gunther.
The band members are all in the their later years. Martin says they attract an older demographic from the 40-to-50 age range. Age hasn't held them back, however, as they continue to push forward and grow as a band.
The band recently toured in L.A playing such stages as the famed Whisky a Go Go. They are still independent of a record label but have hired a publicist to help them expand. Martin says they will continue touring the east coast down through the south.
Bieschke says his goal has always been to work with a team and bring a positive impact to others. Through his hardships, he has found more meaning in his music than the first time around. He says his music is geared toward hardworking, everyday people.
“Hopefully these words, the lyrics and the music can give them some kind of hope,” Bieschke said.