When John “Greyhound” Maxwell sings the blues, he is careful to choose songs he knows something about.
“I am really careful about the kinds of songs I choose to do lyrically because I wouldn’t and I can’t sing about picking cotton or being in a work camp because I don’t have that experience,” Maxwell said. “I am really careful when I choose my material. I do some originals, but when I do cover material, I specifically choose songs that I could honestly relate to. I think that is really important when somebody is playing this style of music.”
There is a long-standing debate on just who can play the blues authentically, Maxwell said.
“For myself, when I listen to someone play blues, what is important to me is that they show respect for the origins of the music.”
Maxwell will perform at 3 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Coyle Community Center, 923 Hazel Point Road in Coyle. Entry to the all-ages show, part of the Concerts in the Woods series, is by donation.
“A musician friend of mine, Mike James, suggested John Maxwell for a concert in Coyle, and so I looked up his history and listened to his music,” said Norm Johnson, Concerts in the Woods founder. “John has played for years and often with names we know in the field of blues. After listening to his recordings, I could hear the smooth precision of his bluesy slide guitar, and I immediately understood his popularity. I can’t want to hear him in person in our intimate listening room.”
Maxwell grew up in the Midwest, and his first exposure to blues was in Chicago.
“At about 16, I went to the historic Old Town School of Folk Music,” he said. “It still exists today and is one of the oldest folk music schools in the country.”
Maxwell took lessons from Johnny Long, who was a student of Homesick James.
“I think I only took two basic guitar classes there, and when I discovered a guy named Johnny Long who was teaching bottleneck slide guitar, he is the one that really put the hook into me, the blues and acoustic guitar was what I really wanted to do.”
Well-versed in the slide guitar style, Maxwell never uses an actual glass beer bottle as a slide.
“Some people have in the past,” he said. “I have always found that a piece of metal pipe works better because it doesn’t break when you drop it. I am kind of fussy about my guitars so I tend to keep beer bottles far away from them.”
It is the unique sound of a slide guitar that has Maxwell hooked for life.
“There is a vocal quality to it that I really love,” he said. “When you listen back to a lot of the old original blues players, it is a conversational aspect between whatever instrument it is, whether it is piano or guitar, but between that and the vocal, I have always felt the slide with all the microtones that are available, and the blue notes create a stronger conversational aspect in the music, which I really like.”
Maxwell went to college in St. Louis, Missouri. He studied classical guitar but had a hankering to get back to blues.
Maxwell has performed with Tommy Bankhead and Henry Townsend.
He also has traveled the country, playing bluegrass in Tulsa and punk rock in Hollywood, with forays into jazz, folk and rock ’n’ roll.
Now in his 60s, Maxwell lives in Port Ludlow, and he still gets out to perform when he can.
“Whatever you do, if you’ve been doing it for most of your life, you reach a proficiency level that’s really enjoyable,” he said.
His recording “Blues for Evangeline” made the top five in the Best Self-Produced CD category at the 2016 Memphis International Blues Challenge. In 2017, he had a song placed in a film at the Sundance Festival. He has also taught at the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival.
The greyhound moniker
There are two known John C. Maxwells: the guitar player and an evangelist. To differentiate, Maxwell started going by “Greyhound” after the national bus line.
“If anybody ever looks for me online, they could never find me because the first 85 pages would be this other guy,” he said. “That was one reason. The other reason was that, before I retired, I drove a transit bus in the Bay Area.” He pointed out he did not drive for Greyhound.
“But, greyhound has a better sound to it,” he said. “And I am tall and skinny, so the greyhound thing fits that way, too.”
For more information about the concert, call Norm Johnson at 360-765-3449.