Though local singer/songwriter/guitarist Jonathan Sexton’s best-known project, the Big Love Choir, has been out of commission since 2011, Sexton himself never left the music scene. The multi-talented musician merely changed his focus, diving headlong into the business side of the industry with a pair of computer apps he co-created for the touring musician.
Now, with the Jan. 25 Jonny Sexton Showcase at Preservation Pub, look for Sexton to reassert himself on the performance tip once again, as a sideman, promoter, and—soon enough—with a new solo effort.
The showcase has been a sort of promotional forum for Sexton over the last several years, a chance to introduce to the Preservation Pub stage a mix of out-of-towners and less-traveled locals, artists who caught his ear in the course of his own musical endeavors. This month’s double-bill with former Black Lillies drummer Jamie Cook and Kentucky-based outfit Your News Vehicle will mark Sexton’s return to the stage, as guitarist for Cook’s new outfit Blue South.
“Even though I don’t play as much as I used to, there are still lots of bands I want to see onstage in Knoxville,” Sexton says. “This has been a way for me to bring in some of those bands, to show Knoxville what they’re are all about. The last year or so, I’ve been pretty busy. I haven’t had a chance to do the Showcase, so I’m glad to be back.”
Cook departed from the Black Lillies earlier this year, to concentrate on his own original music. Stepping out from behind the kit, he sings and plays guitar now, billing his new unit as Jamie Cook and Blue South.
Sexton compares Blue South’s sound to other Americana and roots artists like Guy Clark and Gillian Welch, and offers some serious plaudits to Cook’s fledgling project.
“I believe in Jamie, and I’ve been a big fan of his music for a long time,” says Sexton, who played with Cook in years past in Knoxville acts the Whiskey Scars, the Red House Project, and Oversoul. “He’s always had his own material, but he’s never had the chance to work on it.
“He’s the best songwriter I know. I’ve never seen anyone put more craftsmanship and care into every lyric, every chord, every recording.”
Sexton says he has admired Louisville’s Your News Vehicle since his Big Love Choir days—“They basically play gritty country-rock, a real fun band,” he says—and saw a chance to snag them for a Knoxville show when their bass player, Charlie Boch, recently moved to town. Boch also plays bass in Blue South.
“At the end of the night, we’re going to have a two-band super jam,” Sexton enthuses. “Which should be a real fun experiment. The whole thing will be a good chance to play some tunes, and to see some out-of-town friends.”
That Sexton has the time to play sideman and promote fellow musicians seems a minor miracle now. He was forced to disband his beloved Big Love Choir in 2011, when he and former Knoxvillian Matt Urmy developed Artist Growth, an app that helps touring musicians build (or maintain) their careers with a variety of management and scheduling functions.
“I just couldn’t look our investors in the eye and say, I can’t do what you’re asking, because I’ll be on the road for 100 days out of the year,” Sexton says.
The app is performing well; Sexton notes that Artist Growth is now employed by a number of established artists—Bon Jovi, Emmy Lou Harris, Kings of Leon, to name a few—as well as a growing number of up-and-comers. It recently won the “Best Music App” award at the MTV O Music Awards.
Sexton has since retired from company’s day-to-day operations, though he still owns a share. He’s co-created some new software, in the meantime, an app entitled Band Posters that “allows you to design, print, and ship your band’s posters to every stop on a tour in under 90 seconds.”
Because the new app is less labor-intensive for its authors, Sexton says he has more time do devote to his own creative interests. He’s on the verge of recording music for a new solo project, with a handful of new players from both Knoxville and Nashville.
“My goal in 2014 is to make more music than I have been making since I got involved with the app,” Sexton says. “I’ve learned a lot, to where I think I can juggle the two. So be looking for a lot more out of me in the coming year.”