Spotlight on SSG – April 2011

I first met John Roche shortly after moving to Berkshire County, Massachusetts, back in 2004. He was one of many people who welcomed me to the local musical community and who helped made it easy to feel like I’d found a new home and not just a place to live. Meeting John also led to his participation in Guitar Noise and the Sunday Songwriters’ Group, where he’s been a steady contributor for the past six-plus years.

This month the SSG Spotlight is on John’s wonderful song, “Going Back to Tupelo,” taken from Week 3 of the current Year 9 of SSG:

And John was also kind enough to make the time to answer a few questions for us:

GN: Can you give us a bit of your musical background? How long have you been playing? Why did you take up music in the first place? Who are your musical influences?

John: When I was about 12 years old my friends and I started a band. The only problem was we didn’t play or own any instruments so we rehearsed to records using brooms and whatnot. It was decided I would be the drummer but it didn’t take long banging on pots and pans for my friend Tom to take that spot and for me to switch to broom. I mean guitar.

Like most people of my age I got involved in music because of four young Englishmen – John,Paul,George and Ringo. Growing up with two older sisters I was exposed to all the Top 40 of the early 60’s and the Great Folk Revival of that time. My Mom was a country fan, she especially liked Hank Williams, so I pulled from all of that.

Later I remember hearing Cream and everything changed starting an exploration into The Blues which continues to this day. I have a tendency to work backwards where if I hear something I like I will explore who influenced that artist until I find the source.

GN: How long have you been writing songs and why did you start doing that? Do you have any songwriters in particular that you find inspirational?

John: Ever since I learned my first three chords on guitar. Maybe it’s my Irish heritage or something but I always had a knack for storytelling and poetic wordplay.

Why did I start writing songs? Well if the aforementioned Fab Four wrote their own songs we would have to also. I took on the job of chief lyricist. most of that stuff has fortunately been lost to history but there is one called “Take Me Over The Mountain” co-written with Tom that I keep playing with the idea of resurrecting. As far a inspirational songwriters there are many but John Prine and Willie Dixon hold a special place.

GN: It was a while ago (I think 2004) but do you remember how you came about joining the Sunday Songwriters’ Group and do you feel the SSG has helped you as a songwriter? If so, in what ways? Which of your SSG songs do you consider your favorites? (and feel free to mention songs by other SSG writers as well).

John: Yes 2004. It all began when a fellow name David Hodge attended some open mics at Berkshire Blues Cafe. Sadly BBC has since burned down but in 2004 I was invited to take part in Riverside Jam there and Wes Inman directed me to Guitar Noise. I discovered SSG, started participating right off and it has been the catalyst that got me writing again and given me the chance to explore different styles. The Blues of course with “Time For Makin’ Love” Gospel with “Take Me Down To The Water” and even the style of SSG’s Kathy Reichert with “Do You Remember”. It has also exposed me to the music of many wonderful songwriters and given me the opportunity to work with some of them. Jeff (2thtaker)Lee and James (jamestofee) Conrad with “East Of Eden” stands out.

GN: We’re featuring your song “Going Back to Tupelo” this month. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write it and maybe a bit about the songwriting process for this song?

John: The assignment was to use Elvis in your song. To tell the truth I never had much of a desire to write an “Elvis Song” so I was a little stumped at first. To start I needed to do a little research and read up on “The King”. My original idea was to write about Elvis’ life in Tupelo before moving to Memphis and the part of history we all know. As usual I sat down at my computer, guitar in hand, and started thinking and strumming.

This is one of those songs where I can’t really say where the story came from. “Sarah” was supposed to be the girl next door when Elvis was a youth but after writing the first verse things sort of changed. Not to get all metaphysical or anything but I always try to let the song write itself. By that I mean if I write a verse and it seems to send the song in a certain direction I’m always glad to go along for the ride. If I try to force it to fit into my original idea too much it usually ends in disaster.

So instead of writing an “Elvis Song” I ended up with a “Tupelo Song” with Elvis as more of a side character.

GN: Besides songwriting and music, you’re also very involved in your local community cable television. Do you have any plans of combining these two passions?

John: Funny you should ask. I’ve always wanted to produce my own music show beside the occasional live shows my wife Karen tapes such as last years Riverside Jam but never got around to it.I don’t want to give too much information yet because I’m just superstitious enough to not jinx things. I will say that I’m talking with a singer/songwriter who is working on her first CD release and something should be coming out of this soon. With just a little luck I can turn this into a regular series featuring area songwriters. Stay tuned!

GN: What advice do you have for someone who’s still trying to write his or her first song?

John: As the Nike ad says, “Just do it'”. I know that sounds simplistic but that’s the first step. If you want to write songs you need to write something. Then of course run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. That’s where SSG comes in.


And I’d like to mention that John will be appearing as part of a Songwriters Seminar on Tuesday, April 26 at Dottie”s Coffee House, located at 444 North Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The fun starts at 6:00 PM and goes until 8:00 PM.