The Mississippi Delta in Philly: John the Conqueror Stirs Up Local Music with a Charming, Southern Drawl
Photos by Jonifin Marvin
If you haven’t caught these guys in Philly yet or heard them on WXPN with their single “I Just Wanna,” more than likely you’ll be hearing more of them in the coming months. Better yet, catch them tomorrow night for free at Gunners’ Run with Antoine Haywood. Show starts at 9pm.
Cousins Pierre Moore (lead vocals/guitar) and Michael Gardener (drums) plus Ryan Lynn (bass) form John the Conqueror, a tight-knit, blues/rock band that has made quite an impression over the past year. Literally, just over the past year – the guys were signed to Alive Naturalsound Records last December. They had only been together for the better part of 2011 before that.
“We did all right for a Philly band, but just the exposure we get through being signed. We’ve gotten reviews in France and in newspapers nowhere near us,” Lynn said.
“We’ve read about 50 or 60 reviews in the past month, only one of them has been negative…they said we’re just ripping off the Black Keys; nothing surprised them of what we did,” Moore said. I’ll be getting to their Black Keys related “issues” shortly.
In October the guys released their first full length album. Heavily influenced by blues musicians that Moore and Gardner grew up with in Jackson, MS, they provide a raw, honest edge that truly sets them apart from other bands. For example, one aspect that they hold themselves accountable for is that every single song is based on a true story; thus, that sincerity, passion, and humor truly unveils itself within each song. It doesn’t matter if they’re jamming hard or slowing things down, there’s so much soul you simply feel throughout the album. I’d say for a debut, this is pretty damn impressive.
Starting with the clapping, foot stomping, old school opening track “I Just Wanna,” you can’t help but let their bluesy roots take you to what’s next. Your expectations are raised when you get to the second track “Southern Boy.” This is such a great song from start to finish – you get a great build up to the chorus with a bluesy riff that Moore and Lynn drive hard, accompanied with Gardner’s booming drums. Once the chorus arrives, it keeps building and building until Moore breaks into a howling, rebel yell. The spirit of unyielding, southern pride comes through like no other. And goddamn, does it sound good.
Other standout tracks include “Lucille,” a heartbreaking song about the passing of Moore’s godmother/”godmama,” he likes to say (one writer misinterpreted this song as being about the wicked ways of women; Moore was not happy). “Time to Go” is a soulful love song to a pretty girl who’s just a bit too young. Also, and one of my favorites, is “Come Home With Me,” a great song about picking up a pretty girl. Plain and simple; cheesy pick up line included: “I don’t need to know your name, but I’ll tell you mine. It’s Mr. Damn You Lookin Good And I Ain’t Lyin.”
About a month back two.one.five sat down with these guys. Before I go any further, let me just emphasize how much fun it is to shoot the shit with them. They are some of the most entertaining people I’ve spent time with in recent months. They are like brothers constantly picking on each other, but love one other unconditionally. They all have the same John the Conqueror tattoo and they work together; they run a small time, self employed housing repair/remodeling company. So, essentially, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, these guys are hanging together. They even do family dinners and fishing trips.
“We’re like gay lover brothers,” Moore said.
While they may occasionally bug one another (like any family member you spend lots of time with), a comparison to the Black Keys bugs them a lot more. Many reviews have made commentary along the lines of “they are heavily influenced by the Black Keys” or “you would think they are Black Keys tribute band.”
“The Black Keys are Ohio boys who are influenced by the same people we grew up with. I was playing in a band that was like the Black Keys before the Blacks Keys,” Moore said. “I grew up living in the same cities as these famous blues musicians. I’m from Jackson, MS, where you wouldn’t see someone like R.L. Burnside, someone who’s a big influence for the Black Keys, but you’d see someone like Skip James who’s my favorite blues musician of all time. A lot of songs have more to do with someone like him instead of getting relegated to someone like R.L. Burnside.”
“Essentially, people are just finding that we’re blues rock and we used to be on the same record label as the Black Keys, so that makes us like the Black Keys. I really respect the Black Keys and all that they’ve done, they’re great guys. They do their best to draw attention to their blues passion, including their Junior Kimbrough cover album. I don’t mind being derivative; everything we play is derivative because we are paying homage to blues history. I don’t mind that, but if people are going to say that we’re derivative, be accurate of what we are derivative of. So, don’t say we sound like the Black Keys, say we sound like R.L. Burnside on this song. Or say on this one track that we sound like The Faces, Rod Stewart’s band before he went out on his own.”
The Rod Stewart influenced song to which he is referencing is “Time to Go;” the chorus features homage being paid to Faces’ hit single “Stay With Me.”
As far as the ups and downs are concerned with being a working musician (by that I mean having to work all day and play music at night while also squeezing in time to write and record), they’re pretty happy to be signed and getting international recognition. They’re having a blast, really. They’ve enjoyed getting drunk, laid, and access to hotel swimming pools a lot more. Moore has a pretty great story concerning himself, still drunk the next morning, sitting in a hotel lobby wearing swim trunks while playing guitar “as if he were on display.”
These guys are characters. They’re down to have a good time and rock out on some muddy, down south, Mississippi blues. I highly recommend seeing them perform then trying to have a beer with them after.
John the Conqueror will be performing tomorrow night, Dec. 6, at Gunners’ Run, 1001 N. 2nd Street. Show starts at 9pm, free admission.