John Cowan was born on August 24, 1953, in Minerva, Ohio and got his musical start in Louisville, Kentucky, where he played in various rock outfits in the early 1970s. But his rise to fame began in earnest in 1974 when he auditioned to play bass for the then up-and-coming New Grass Revival. The audition went well, and John was offered the gig. It wasn’t until he’d accepted the job that the shy 22-year-old casually mentioned, “By the way, I can sing too."
With his distinctive, rock-tinged tenor vocal and heart-thumping electric bass, John, along with fellow New Grass Revival band mates Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson and Curtis Burch, and later, Bela Fleck and Pat Flynn, introduced a new generation of music fans to an explosive, experimental and ultimately, eponymous brand of bluegrass. The “newgrass” sound spawned popular jam bands including Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band in addition to shaping the sensibilities of country megastars Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Zac Brown Band and Darius Rucker.
After New Grass Revival disbanded in 1990, John went on to record a series of critically acclaimed solo albums including Soul’d Out (Sugar Hill, 1986), the self-titled John Cowan (Sugar Hill, 2000), Always Take Me Back (Sugar Hill, 2002), New Tattoo (Pinecastle, 2006), 8,745 Feet, Live at Telluride (2005, re-released by E-1 Entertainment, 2009), Comfort & Joy (E-1 Entertainment, 2009) and The Massenburg Sessions (E-1 Entertainment, 2010).
From 1992 through 1995, John could be found playing bass for the Doobie Brothers, as well as gaining a songwriting credit for “Can’t Stand to Lose” on the Doobie Brothers' 2000 release Sibling Rivalry. Not content to remain a sideman, however, John left the Doobie Brothers to follow his creative muse in pursuit of a solo career that, at the dawn of the 21st century, found him circling back to his acoustic “newgrass” roots.
“What we did back in the New Grass Revival days was unique,” he says. “Our vision was to take acoustic music somewhere new. What I’ve done with the John Cowan Band is try to recapture the magic of that ground-breaking experimentation and take it to the next level.”
The John Cowan Band, in various incarnations that inevitably feature some of acoustic music’s finest players, has been a force to be reckoned with these 15 years – and counting. John is a fixture and a favorite at major festivals including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado and Wilkesboro, North Carolina’s “traditional-plus” MerleFest, and he routinely sells out performing arts theaters and distinguished music clubs and listening rooms around the country.
These days, John Cowan fans have to wait a little longer between shows and possibly travel a little farther to get to them. That’s because he’s working his own performances into and around another very busy schedule. In 2010, the Doobie Brothers found themselves once again in need of a bass player, and John Cowan was the first person they called. He took the job, and now he travels the world with the Doobies, laying down the low notes and singing the high ones.
“I love my ‘job’,” Cowan says. “I love these guys. I love being in a band – a great band – and I love playing music for people every night. I’m also very grateful for every opportunity I have to play my music with my own band for the fans that have been so loyal to me over the years. I don’t ever want to stop sharing my music with them.”
And as if two touring gigs didn’t keep him busy enough, in March of 2012, WSM Radio – home of the Grand Ole Opry – launched John Cowan – I Believe To My Soul, an hour-long radio program that airs monthly and features John interviewing and playing the music of some of the giants and legends of contemporary music.
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