Rocking out

Hearing the latches of his friend’s Fender guitar case pop open and smelling the lemon-oil scent of it are still fresh in John Whitcomb’s mind.

That was the Seymour native’s first time seeing that type of guitar up close.

“He plugged that thing in and started playing, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Whitcomb said. “That was it. It was over.”

Whitcomb went on to take guitar lessons, joined his first band while in junior high and played with several others before settling with Jayne Bond and the Pink Martinis for the past 18 years. That group opened the third season of the Seymour CityJam concert series Thursday night.

Either with that band or as a solo artist, Whitcomb has played in his hometown several times throughout his career. Each time is special, he said.

“I’m blessed with great friends from here that come out. Even if I haven’t seen them for quite a while, they still come out and say ‘Hi,’” he said. “The old neighborhood is always the old neighborhood. I still have a lot of people that I know from where I grew up.”

Growing up, Whitcomb said his parents, Edgar and Pat Whitcomb, and four older sisters, Shelly, Alice, Ann and Tricia, all loved music.

“There was always music in the house,” he said.

After he met his friend, Brad Ault, and became introduced to the guitar during his first semester of junior high, he took lessons at Crane’s Music in Seymour.

“I took lessons with basically anybody who would show me anything,” Whitcomb said. “I was the most annoying guitar player in town because I was like, ‘Hey, show me this, show me that.’”

From junior high to his sophomore year at Seymour High School, Whitcomb played with his first band, Nebula, consisting of Ault and Matt Doboze.

Six months after graduating, Whitcomb joined Louisville, Kentucky-based Chase, which played the honky-tonk circuit and traveled all over the United States. Whitcomb did that for four years, playing five or six nights a week.

He then moved to California and attended the Guitar Institute of Technology for a year. That was capped off by being invited to play during graduation in 1989.

“I thought it was time to figure out and learn what I was doing,” he said. “It was very cool. I loved that place. It was more compared to a trade school, but it was just all music all the time for a year.”

He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and played music full time for two years with a band called Cruise Control.

His father, who was Indiana’s 43rd governor from 1969 to 1973, then decided to sail around the world, and John went along for a while.

“I was going to go with him the rest of the way, but I got seasick, and it was just too much for me,” John Whitcomb said. “I just couldn’t handle it. Most people kind of get used to it after a while. I never did.”

Whitcomb returned to his home state and settled in Nashville. He landed a job at American Cabaret Theatre in Indianapolis, playing a variety of instruments in the pit orchestra for Broadway shows.

After 10 years in that position, he met one of the founding members of Jayne Bond and the Pink Martinis, Larry Sauer.

“I was getting tired of that gig, and Larry came as a sub drummer one night, and he started asking me a bunch of questions,” Whitcomb said. “The next thing I knew, I’m subbing for their guitar player on New Year’s Eve at The Columbia Club, and 18-plus years later, I’m still with them.”

The group started in 1997 as a six-piece jazz band before changing into a dance party band and adding the Martini Sisters. All of the band members have stage names. Whitcomb’s is Parker O’Dowd.

The band plays at festivals, corporate parties, conventions, wedding receptions and other special events.

“Everybody shows up and does their job,” Whitcomb said. “There’s no head games. Everybody is professional. Everybody gets along well. Yeah, we’ve had some tense times here and there. But 98 percent of the time, we’re all on the same page, all come to do the same thing, and that’s to put on a great show and play great music.”

Whitcomb said he also likes that everyone in the band continues to pursue their craft. They are involved in other bands or projects.

Whitcomb also plays with Black and White Blues Band and performs original music as a solo artist. He plans on releasing his second solo album later this summer.

“It’s going to be kind of classic blues sounding from the ’30s and ’40s with a little mayhem thrown in, a little modern stuff,” he said.

Whitcomb’s first album, “Soul Check,” was released in 1995. With his current project, he is working with producer Rich Morpurgo at Midwest Audio Recording in Bloomington.

“I started writing in high school, and I wasn’t very good at it,” Whitcomb said. “I just kept doing it and pretty much learned by myself. I read some books here and there and wrote some really terrible ones at the beginning that are embarrassing to hear now. But then I just kept getting better and better.”

Besides playing with bands or going solo, Whitcomb has served as music director at churches off and on for 20 years. He now holds that title at St. Paul Methodist Church in Bloomington.

He also has a small painting business, The Village Painter, that he does on the side.

Whitcomb said he expects to keep playing with Jayne Bond and the Pink Martinis for years to come. The band used to play all over the Midwest, but the recession in 2008 caused corporate businesses to scale back. They now play a few times a month.

Darnell Dukes, executive director of Southern Indiana Center for the Arts in Seymour, said it was great to have the band back in the city. In the past, it has played at arts center events and the Seymour Oktoberfest.

“Several years ago, we began talking about them and had no clue whether we would be able to get them for Artful Affair,” Dukes said. “It worked out, and everybody seemed to like them. They play a nice little variety of music, and I think they can tailor for however you want. It’s high-energy and fun. Even if you don’t get up and dance, it’s just fun to sit and watch them. It’s highly entertaining.”

Dukes said it’s also nice to have a Seymour connection with the band.

“I’ve known John since high school, and I know he’s a great musician,” Dukes said. “I think it’s really neat to have somebody from your hometown that can come back and give.”

The first of four summer concerts was moved indoors to the Knights of Columbus building because of the inclement weather. That’s the first time that has happened, Dukes said.

“It has all come together great,” she said. “Everybody has been really good about making that change from outside to inside.”

The other shows are Terry Lee and the Rockaboogie Band on July 16, Sounds of Summer on Aug. 20 and Old Salt Union on Sept. 17.

“We hope there’s something for everybody,” Dukes said.

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The first Seymour CityJam concert of the season was Thursday night, featuring Jayne Bond and the Pink Martinis.

The remaining shows are Terry Lee and the Rockaboogie Band on July 16, Sounds of Summer on Aug. 20 and Old Salt Union on Sept. 17.

Thursday’s show was moved indoors to the Knights of Columbus building because of the weather. The concerts normally are on a stage on Second Street in downtown Seymour between Indianapolis Avenue and Ewing Street.

The free concerts begin at 6 p.m., but food, drinks and desserts are sold by The Pines, Bartholomew County Beverage and Orange Leaf starting at 5:30 p.m.

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Name: John Whitcomb

Age: 54

Hometown: Seymour

Residence: Nashville

Education: Seymour High School (1979); Guitar Institute of Technology (1989)

Occupation: He has played guitar with Jayne Bond and the Pink Martinis for the past 18 years; he also is music director at St. Paul Methodist Church in Bloomington and operates a painting business, The Village Painter, in Nashville

Family: Wife, Terri Whitcomb; children, Zachary Branham, Amber Burton and Tabitha Whitcomb; parents, Edgar and Pat Whitcomb; sisters, Shelly Whitcomb, Alice Carfagno, Ann Guggenheim and Tricia Sipes