Watching the scenery fly by from the backseat of a station wagon on regular trips between Claymont, the intentional community in West Virginia where he was born, and Washington D.C., JH would listen to his Dad’s fingers drumming out complicated polyrhythmic patterns on the roof of the car while the sounds of music from around the world played on the stereo: Jean Michel-Jarre, Pankaj Udhas, Bach, Indonesian Gamelan, Led Zeppelin, Inti-Illimani. Music became the bridge between the country and the city, indelibly associated with movement, travel and cultures both local and global.
From 1984-86 Robert Fripp, the leader of experimental rock group King Crimson, came to Claymont to start his school for Guitar Craft, a series of guitar and personal development classes intended to cultivate “a way to develop a relationship with the guitar, a way to develop a relationship with music and a way to develop a relationship with oneself.”
As a 5th grade student at the Claymont Children’s school, John Henry, and his classmates, would often sit and watch Fripp lead his Guitar Craft students in rehearsals and performance, mesmerized by the waves of overlapping arpeggios played as one note per person between 13 guitarists sitting in a circle around their audience. It was his first experience watching live music.
A few years later John Henry began studying African percussion at a drum festival at Claymont called Drum Time. This led to many drum circles and informal jams with friends over the next few years, but he did not starting studying music seriously until college. At Kenyon College, in addition to his course load for a degree in International Studies, JH studied music theory, ethnomusicology, jazz history, concert band, and drum set. During this period he also started a freeform radio show as a DJ for the college station, WKCO. As his studies at Kenyon college progressed it became apparent that he had started playing too late in life to be a music major. Faced with the dilemma of becoming increasingly focused on music but not wishing to write yet another bloviated political science paper on Latin American revolutionary movements for his International Studies degree , John Henry opted to write his senior thesis as an ethnomusicological comparison of the Afro-Latin drumming and dance traditions found in the Yoruban diasporic religions of Santería and Candomblé.
Following college, JH continued to DJ and play drums, returning to Washington DC to work as a music programmer at a Latin and Brazilian web radio station called Radiofutura.com. It was in DC that he founded a live band fusing electronic, latin, Brazilian, funk and jazz music called Aubergine 3. Releasing their first and only record “In All Things Modulation” in 2003 on Transistor Recordings, the group found limited local and national success with some gigs, club residencies and a few songs licensed for film and TV shows, but ultimately was not destined to become a full time project.
With the surreal and militaristic political environment in DC after 9/11/2001, JH eventually decided to move back to West Virginia to Claymont refocus on drums and music in a more peaceful, rural setting. Teaming up with some high school friends from Jefferson County, this period of retreat to the country would produce perhaps the most undefinable band he ever played with: Roan Caliban. Mixing dub, bluegrass, heavy metal, electronica, funk, and folk music with unabashed experimentalism, Roan Caliban played some legendary shows in the local bars, clubs and bonfire-fueled house parties of Jefferson County. But, sadly, with conflicting priorities and intentions, this band was also not destined for the world stage.
In 2006, after years of attempting to “make it” in music, JH decided to head back to school. Having been accepted to the Reid School of Music at the University of Edinburgh, JH moved to Scotland to study algorithmic composition, FM synthesis, Max/MSP, and Ableton Live for a Master of Science degree in Digital Composition and Performance” . After an intense 2 years of study, DJing, playing drums and finally realizing why people like single malt so much in his ancestral homeland, JH then returned home to the states, but this time to the west coast.