Jon Foulk is like a lot of Johnson City residents. He wasn’t born here, he wasn’t raised here, but now that he lives here, he’s not too interested in leaving.
The East Tennessee State University music degree graduate has settled in with his physician wife and their three children. He’s a stay-at-home dad, river raft guide (when he has the time) and a singer/songwriter who just released his first CD.
All in all, Foulk fits right in around here. He is an avid outdoorsman who loves the mountains and once worked as a river guide on the Nolichucky. He still kayaks as much as a singer/songwriter, husband and stay-at-home-dad of three can manage.
Foulk is a native of Atlanta, but moved to Knoxville when he was 13. By that time, he was already playing music and writing poetry.
His musical life began when he was 3 and tapped out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on his aunt’s piano by ear. Yes, that age-old nursery rhyme is where it all started. And while Foulk does read music now, albeit slowly, he’s just a natural playing the piano.
“I got fired by a piano teacher because I was just listening to her and watching her and not trying to understand the concept of music reading,” he said.
Foulk finally found a piano teacher who accepted his style of learning and, from there, he was able to hone his playing ability.
“Instead of teaching me how to read music, he catered to my ear and taught me how to read chords and chord charts,” he said.
In 1998, Foulk started his music education at ETSU on a scholarship and sang in the men’s ensemble 7 Bucs Worth. He also continued to work on his songwriting and spent many nights at The Down Home listening to singer/songwriters who “made me realize (I) could do this and a little bit better. There’s a craft to being a lyricist.”
Foulk’s wife, Brooke, who he met in high school, also came to Johnson City to finish her medical degree. Today, she is an OB/GYN with ETSU Physicians and Associates. The Foulks have three children: Turner, 5; Ellie, 3; and Hadley, 6 months.
“There was a time I didn’t play hardly at all and I felt like a part of me was missing. I was trying to do a lot of reflecting on what I was supposed to be doing and every time I tried to think about doing a different career and different job, I would fall back to music. People would ask me what I wanted to do and it was always that I wanted to be a musician,” Foulk said.
“It’s also been difficult because it’s such an interesting and difficult passion to pursue. It’s not like you go to college for four years and grad school and a residence and you’re this with this set amount (of) money. There’s so much luck that’s involved and you have to have talent and people to be engaged by that.”
After he and his wife started having children, Foulk said his songwriting changed and he learned to play the guitar. Of course, picking up a new instrument was somewhat out of practicality — Foulk quickly realized he couldn’t hold his infant son and play piano at the same time.
“I figured out I could play guitar and (the kids were) mesmerized by it and that simplified my songwriting,” he said. “I was trying to write these complex melodies and songs, but on the guitar I was only so good at it, so it simplified my songwriting.”
His lyrics also changed around that time.
“I started writing different kinds of songs and I found myself writing songs for the kids. That’s one of the reasons I did the album, ‘View From the Back Seat,’ ” he said. “It was actually written for my son, Turner, because I would drive him around for hours on end because that was the only way he would calm down when he was a baby. We would go up Interstate 26 to Erwin and get on (Tenn.) 81 to Jonesborough and just do laps.”
In the title track, which is written specifically for his son, Foulk sings, “I easily could sleep. Instead I watch and I dream ... time has made a loop again and I didn’t miss a beat, taking in life’s journey with a view from the back seat.”
When daughter Ellie was born, he wrote the song “Ellie Grace” in which he tells his little girl, “Open your eyes Miss Ellie Grace. It seems you found yourself in a brand new place. Take my hand, travel with me. I’ll show you around and give you anything. My life is on hold until you’ve grown old as I watch over you until all your dreams come true.”
His song, “Unmet Girl of My Dreams” was penned for his youngest daughter before she was even born.
In it, Foulk tells Hadley, “I bet your patience surpasses mine and you look just like your mom. I pray you have your daddy’s love for a simple life.”
“After writing those songs, Brooke kinda pushed me to record them and that’s what led to the album,” Foulk said.
Foulk also wrote a song called “Nolichucky” that is featured on the album. It is a reflection of all his time spent on the river.
“There’s a place I call home where the holler meets the hills. The river is full of life and I know just how she feels,” he sings. “So I sing, roll on Nolichucky. I’ll see you soon my friend. When the sky is turning blue, look for me around the bend.”
The entire album is a compilation of reflective songs, Foulk said. It is a “very personal album,” he added, that features “rich simplistic songs, harmonies and melodic jams influenced by the peaceful lifestyle in Appalachia and its daily struggles and joys.”
With one CD under his belt, Foulk’s future music plans remain up in the air.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “I want to keep promoting the music. It’s something that’s given me a whole lot of satisfaction. I’ll try to book some more gigs and see where it takes me.”
He also hopes to get back into the studio to record several new songs he has written.
To listen to Foulk’s music, visit his website at www.foulkmusic.com. His CD, which sold out of hard copies, is available on www.cdbaby.com for downloading.