Supporting Friends Friday: The Music of John Pickett

The local music scene in the Pee Region of South Carolina is surprisingly robust, with some truly stellar musicians.  The creative heart of this scene rests in several open mic nights at local coffee shops.  Currently, the two big open mics to have resumed are at The Purple Fish Coffee Company in Darlington, South Carolina, and at Crema Coffee Bar in Hartsville, South Carolina.  The Fish hosts its open mic on Friday evenings, and Crema hosts its on Tuesday nights.

The other major open mic—probably the most enduring of the current Big Three—was at Lula’s Coffee Company in Florence, South Carolina.  Lula’s, however, has not resumed its legendary Thursday night open mic night—an open mic so artistically fervent, it inspired an entire book of poetry—much to the chagrin and bafflement of its most devoted performers, yours portly included.

But before there were any of these establishments, there was Bean Groovy, a now-defunct coffee shop that used to occupy a magical little bit of strip mall in Florence.  I know the former owner of Bean Groovy—himself a studio engineer in the distant past—and despite some attempts to reopen the establishment at other locations, it’s never made a return.

Nevertheless, Bean Groovy was where I got my start in local music in the Pee Dee, way back in the hazy, halcyon days of circa 2012-2013.  It, along with The Midnight Rooster in Hartsville (still in business, but it’s shifted from being a quirky coffee house into a frou-frou upscale dining establishment) were my old stomping grounds as I broke my way into the region’s open mic scene.

It was at Bean Groovy sometime in probably 2012 or 2013 that I met one of my best friends, John Pickett.  John is an excellent guitarist and singer, and he possesses one of the best ears for music I’ve ever encountered.

I’m not sure how exactly it started, but at some point, John and I started playing together.  That tends to happen when you’re hanging around a bunch of different musicians, and you start seeing the same two or three dudes at every open mic.  John is very deeply religious—we go to church together—but he also attends open mic nights religiously.  At one point, there were something like three or four different open mics going on in a fifty-mile radius that we knew about, and John would go to all of them, nearly weekly.

Naturally, when you play that much, you get good.  John is very good.  He used to play primarily on a gorgeous red six-string, but for the past few years he’s make a beautiful Takamine twelve-string his weapon of choice.  The rich, full sound of his twelve-string—which Frederick Ingram once described as being so rich, it sounds “like an autoharp”—generously supports his vocals, which I would describe primarily as an earthy tenor.  He can also hit incredibly low bass notes, as his cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” demonstrates (if only a video existed!).

John mostly plays rhythm guitar, though he’s picking up more and more lead licks.  He’s been messing around with mandolin lately, too, which lends itself to more lead-style playing.  He tells me he has been working on violin as well, though it’s slow-going.

John’s repertoire is vast, and his knowledge of music from the 1970s to the present is encyclopedic.  It’s truly remarkable:  I’ll sing some snippet of a song I might barely know, and John can tell me who wrote it; what year it was released; and what happened in the music video.  We’ll play a song once or twice in practice, and John will know it—forever.  Then, six months later, he’ll ask me to play it with him at an open mic, and I’ll have forgotten the chord progression!

In addition to playing covers, John writes quite a bit of original music.  His early material is in a very strong Southern gospel vein, but he moved to more of a contemporary Christian mode on his only release, Acoustic Praise.  To my knowledge, Acoustic Praise is not available online, but if you contact me I will try to arrange securing a physical copy of the CD for you.  It’s really quite good:  I am no fan of contemporary Christian music (I like hymns), but John’s music possesses all of the qualities most contemporary praise music lacks:  melody, harmonic motion, and theological depth.

John is probably also the world’s biggest (and perhaps last) Gordon Lightfoot fan.  He can play Lightfoot songs besidesThe Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  Did you know there were any others?

For years I played most gigs solo (indeed, I still play quite a few on my own), but I’ve come to rely upon John to flesh out my songs, and I find that I sound way better with his guitar and his spot-on vocal harmonies.  I’ve played a number of gigs over the years where I’ve been thankful to have John playing them; in a few cases, his steely memory and workmanlike playing have carried the gig.

Nowadays, I pretty much don’t play local shows without John, with the exception of the occasional private party.  He was part of both of my front porch concerts, and we were asked to bring live music back to The Purple Fish earlier this month.  We’ve played so many gigs together as a duet, we’ve developed a very strong rapport on stage, and can often sense where the other is going.

John’s online presence is not huge—there are some YouTube videos of him playing out there, but I can’t locate them easily.  He does have a Facebook fan page, which I encourage you to follow if you use Facebook.  I need to sit him down and get him setup with a Bandcamp page, if nothing else.

I wish there was a way I could tell you buy his music or to donate to him, but if you feel inclined—and he does deserve it—he’s easy to contact via his Facebook fan page.

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