John Butler, probably one of the greatest guitar players the world has seen in recent memory. Even if you’re not a musician, after hearing Butler you may have to agree with me. Within a landscape that encompasses a plethora of genres, picking styles and individualism, Butler’s music stands alone.
As a music junkie, and I don’t use that term lightly, I find myself constantly introducing Butler’s music to the unaware. It’s not their fault either, even active music listeners have yet to hear of him or the band he fronts called The John Butler Trio. I frequently have discussions where people ask why his material never seems to make it to the airwaves. I don’t have a concrete answer for that but after studying radio and working within the music industry, I have a few ideas. We’ll come back to this but first a little history on the man who embodies the word “soul.”
Great music seems to come from a very tight knit handful of countries. The UK, Canada, United States and more recently Australia. John Butler hails from the latter, honing his craft on the streets of Fremantle. He took his musical talent to the public as he busked his way from obscurity to hometown fame. And to think his grandmother gave his first guitar to him, at sixteen, after his grandfather passed away. It remains one of his prized possessions to this day. With the addition of a drummer and bassist, The John Butler Trio was formed. Butler released his first self-titled album in 1998.
As we progress through the albums and the years we hear the growth of one of earth’s scarcest talents swell to fruition. A unique thing about this band is that Butler is the only staple. Musicians are often replaced or switched out by Butler to change direction from album to album. 2004’s “Sunrise Over Sea” brought the Trio massive airplay in Australia with the release of the single “Zebra” and the supremely popular “Peaches & Cream” written for his wife and newborn daughter.
I have had the pleasure of seeing The John Butler Trio live in Toronto on three separate occasions and the man just refuses to disappoint. It’s funny to note that I fell in to the category of being ignorant of this band until I saw them at the now torn down Kool Haus in 2008. A friend had an extra ticket and I rarely turn down a show. Leaving the venue I couldn’t stop talking about it. I left with a copy of their album “Live At St. Gallen” which was recorded in Switzerland and if you’re listening to this band for the first time I recommend it be your starting point. Another cool story came when I saw him perform at The Mod Club. Playing to a sold-out crowd he addressed the audience in between songs and told us a story about four kids begging for tickets outside their tour bus all day. “Should I let them in?” he asked, with a thunderous cheer we agreed. He let all four of them in the back door and propped them at the side of the stage for the remainder of the gig. Classy play Mr. Butler, classy play.
I hope by now that I have at least peaked your interest in to listening to this phenomenal musician. Addressing the question of why he doesn’t receive airplay here in North America, it’s a complete mystery. He would be embraced by so many of us and I strive for a world where musicians like John can be heard on a more regular basis.
I’m going to leave you with a rendition of his track “Ocean.” It’s the record I usually play for people who have yet to here his material. Yes it’s long, eleven minutes, but it’s also instrumental. Butler, in his element, with a 12-string and an audience to fuel the burn. It’s an emotional rollercoaster worth taking because in all honesty he’ll blow your mind.