More often than not, the road to country music stardom originates in Texas, Tennessee, or another time-honored Southern destination. John Ballantyne’s story arc reads way differently.
Fast becoming recognized as one of Chicago’s premier country singers and songwriters, Ballantyne was born and raised in Scotland, though you’d never know it from his earthy vocal delivery and immaculate lead guitar. Both resonate with the twang and raunch of classic honky-tonk country.
In his 20s, John grew enamored of singer-songwriters Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, and Jerry Jeff Walker., but Prine remains his favorite. “He’s a master songwriter. That’s what he’s famous for. But then the kicker is, you think, ‘What a great song! I want to sing this, but I bet it is really hard to learn,’” he says. “You print out the lyrics, look at it, and you go, ‘Is that it? There are two verses and a chorus. How can that be? There’s something wrong with the computer!’ This guy has painted a whole picture, a whole movie, and contained it in two verses and a chorus. And that’s the magic of John Prine. Other people do it, but he does it like no other.”
Ballantyne’s splendidly concise lead guitar attack recalls that of James Burton, whose impeccable licks graced the hits of Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Emmylou Harris, and many more. “Burton was a huge influence,” he says. “I would sit with the LP record and play it over and over and over again, trying to figure out what the hell he was doing. One of my heroes, for sure.”
With these influences, it comes as no surprise to us that John's original songs and guitar playing will grab your attention and leave you wanting more.