How surprised was Blue Door Records co-owner Greg Johnson when he got word that his Oklahoma-based artist John Fullbright had been nominated for a Grammy Award for Americana album, alongside roots-music heavyweights Mumford & Sons, Bonnie Raitt, the Avett Brothers and the fast-rising Lumineers?
“I don’t know how any of this Grammy stuff works,” Johnson said Thursday from his office in the Oklahoma City folk club he’s been running for 20 years, the Blue Door, from which the label gets its name. “Even though John and I own the record label, I didn’t do any of the paperwork to submit anything. That’s why we got Thirty Tigers to put it out for us. I didn’t know where that process was at all.”
Fullbright’s album, “From the Ground Up,” has been reviewed enthusiastically, but the 24-year-old singer and songwriter from Woody Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Okla., is still flying largely under the radar.
How far under the radar? He may be the only Grammy-nominated musician who’s playing a free show in a college bar this weekend, although he was tapped to be part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s recent concert tribute to Chuck Berry in Cleveland.
“He played Blue Door two nights last week and packed them in, then this happens and now he’s doing a gig at a college bar at Oklahoma State on Saturday night. It’s the kind of thing where there’s no cover, and the band sets up in the corner — it’s a sports bar. It’s really funny — it’s not the kind of place John’s going to be playing much anymore. I was kidding him: From the Grammys to Eskimo Joe’s.”
Johnson’s excitement over Fullbright’s nomination has less to do with getting a foot in the door of the mainstream music industry as it is to see institutional recognition for the kind of literate songwriting that is at the core of Fullbright’s album.
“To see real, solid, classic songwriting honored, that is what’s really cool,” Johnson said. “A lot of young kids aren’t writing like that anymore. It’s more about the sound, a soundscape orientation kind of thing. It’s fun for the evening but not necessarily memorable four days later.”
And for Fullbright himself?
“John’s pretty excited,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘The coolest part of that is that now maybe Bonnie Raitt knows my name.’”
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