When we talked on Tuesday, Jon Worley aka Cornbred (“like inbred”) was coming off a benefit concert for a dear friend with Stage IV cancer, an extremely rare lymphoma Worley blames on the oppression of “hillbillies,” beginning with the industrialization of East Tennessee in the 1930s.
Speaking of the pollution left by industry, he said, “It’s by the grace of God I don’t have a prehensile tail from rolling around in the stuff I rolled around in when I was a kid.”
Worley, from Morristown, will be playing at Galaxy Lounge Saturday at 10.
He said where and how he grew up and his music are one and the same thing. Music is a way for him to speak out against injustice and find healing.
“The music I play I like to call blues, Afrillachian, footstompin craziness. I’m playin’ this music because it affirms my life. It’s the only part of this world I live in in East Tennessee I can control. I heal with this music. I play to live,” he said.
“Coming where I come from, everybody I want to hang out with is dead, or the people I want to hang out with, I got to call ’em up and see what step they’re on in the 12-Step program. If they’re under step 10, I’m not any good for them.”
Since every musician has got to be “like” someone else so people who don’t know them will come to their shows, Worley says his music sounds like the White Stripes or the Black Keys. ReverbNation compares him to Dr. John and Joe Cocker. He also brings to mind Lowell George and Little Feat.
The Galaxy’s stage may be a little crowded Saturday, but that’s a good thing. In addition to Worley on keyboard, guitar, vocals, blues harmonica and tambourine (on his foot), he will also have a fiddle, bass drum, “probably” an oboe/saxophone player and maybe a trumpet. “I’ll roll through the trailer park and throw (the musicians) in the back of the van,” Worley said.
He also expects a few guests.
“There’s so many good musicians in Johnson City that I’ve played with, at some point in the night there’ll be at least two people who aren’t in my band that will be in my band,” he said. “It’s kind of like church. If the spirit moves ’em and they feel like they’ve got something to contribute, who am I to say no.”
Worley, 35, has been playing music for 16 years, up to 200 shows a year. Many are in this area, but others are in New York, particularly Brooklyn.
“All my life I’ve had this super-intense feeling like I’m a sore thumb everywhere I go. When I’m in Brooklyn, you’ve got the old school block, Muslims, Haitians, Jamaicans, then you’ve got this gentrified part of it where you got these rich young couples coming in. I feel more comfortable in my own skin in Brooklyn and New York. Isn’t that crazy? Going to New York gave me self-esteem about my art.”
Apocalyptic best describes Worley’s view of life, but it isn’t without hope. Music is the answer, he said.
“This is the kind of stuff that will save civilization when (it) hits the fan,” he said. “This is the key: If you can get everybody in the room and get ’em dancing, you can talk about race, politics, LGBT issues, whatever. Let’s get in a good mood and talk about it. When there ain’t no more electricity, there’s going to be kids like us beating on stuff keeping folks alive.”
Galaxy Lounge is located at 216 E. Main St. For more information, call 232-0975.