John Minton is a legend in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but he would never describe himself that way. Music- and culture-minded students at Indiana University-Purdue University, now Purdue University, Fort Wayne have flocked to his graduate and undergraduate classes on folklore, rock ‘n’ roll history and master classes on popular culture, music and society. The popularity of those classes coupled with Minton’s talent as a vocalist and guitarist add to his reputation.
I started a conversation with Minton on Record Store Day 2018. This is the follow-up to that conversation.
LemonWire: How long have you been a musician, professional or otherwise?
John Minton: I started piano lessons at age five and played cornet in middle school, so there were lots of recitals and programs. But I really got interested in performing after I started guitar around twelve. At first it was just parties and stuff, but in Houston at the time you could play for money in restaurants and coffee houses once you were fifteen, which I did. And because the drinking age in Texas then was eighteen, you could start playing in bars when you were sixteen. So, I played my first gig for money in a dive bar in March 1973, about six weeks past my sixteenth birthday. Since then, I’ve played whenever and wherever I’ve been able.
LW: How does your professional life or day job compare, contrast or intermingle with what you do as a musician?
JM: Well, as a professor, my day job for the last three decades has involved teaching courses and publishing scholarly books and articles on American folk and popular music. Of course, it has also involved a lot of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo and academic b.s. But obviously these all overlap, or more precisely, I’d say they’re mutually reinforcing. Anyway, I feel really lucky that I’m able to stay constantly immersed in music.
LW: What is your assessment of Fort Wayne’s music scene?
JM: Fort Wayne has an amazing music scene. The amount of musical talent around here is staggering. But as far as making a decent living in Fort Wayne just playing music? Not likely, not for most performers. There just isn’t the infrastructure, and frankly there just isn’t the audience. If you want to operate in the music business at a certain level, you’re still going to have to go to L.A., Nashville, New York– definitely to some larger city or market.
LW: Can you discuss the concept of your latest album?
JM: A vanished world. Or vanishing worlds. Not that that’s always a bad thing–you want some of those worlds to vanish! It’s not a concept album by any means–and I don’t think all the songs relate to that–but now that the world I grew up in is almost completely gone, I think about those sorts of things a lot, and if there is one theme that runs through the album, I think that’s it.
LW: What is your favorite album recorded by you?
JM: Well, I’ve put out seven CDs since 2003 and to tell you the truth, it’s been years since I’ve listened to many of them. I tend to stay more focused on what I’m doing now or what I’m about to do. But I’ll gladly own up to all of them–I think they’re all good representations of what I was doing musically at the time, which isn’t always easy to capture in the studio, so I think they’re all successes. But that’s how I think of them–as a logical progression. I don’t really grade them.
LW: What kind of support are you doing for the new album?
JM: Touring would still be best, but touring my kind of music is really demanding, and given my circumstances not all that feasible. There is an audience, and there are venues, but these are fairly dispersed so that to reach any large number of people, you have to stay at it constantly and really cover some ground. But I’ve had some luck using the Internet, which is ironic because I generally detest the virtual world. I only get online when I have to, I avoid so-called social media altogether, I don’t even carry a cellphone. But the Internet has allowed me to find publications and reviewers, and online and broadcast radio stations that have supported my music, at the same time providing a place where listeners can find me. As a result I’ve been able to build up a very small following around North America and Britain, and an even smaller following in Europe. I even have miniscule but steady sales in places like Japan, Australia, and Brazil. I’m sure I’d be better known if I could get out and tour, but even as a fossil from the Age of Analogue, I recognize certain benefits to the Internet.
LW: What musical regrets do you have, if any?
JM: I’m sure there were things I could have done better, or that I’d now do differently. And everybody makes mistakes. Me, I make lots! But in terms of what I would call regrets, I’m surprisingly regret free. Now that I’m in my sixties, I’m just glad I can still get out and play and have a good time or put out CDs with new stuff on them that people like. As many years as I’ve been doing this, I know so many people who gave up music for one reason or another. Sometimes they thought they were just taking a break, but then they lost chops, forgot what they knew, were forgotten themselves. Then, even if you do try to start again, you never get back to where you were, much less progress. Now that’s the sort of thing that people really seem to regret.
“Murder in the Cornfield” is the new album by John Minton. It is available from CD Baby and locally from Wooden Nickel Records.