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Broken Arrow's JD McPherson mixes genres into his modern retro rock

JD McPherson will rock the block as he headlines the roots-oriented Sailor Jerry Stage of the Norman Music Festival 6.
BY GENE TRIPLETT etriplett@opubco.com Modified: April 25, 2013 at 5:08 pm •  Published: April 26, 2013
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When Rounder Records jump-started retro-rocker JD McPherson's career last year, his debut album took off like a Rocket 88.

And just in the nick of time, too, since the Broken Arrow bopper's teaching job had just stalled out.

“This came along at exactly the right time, and we're doin' OK,” the singer-guitarist said from a diner parking lot where his outfit had stopped on the way to Columbia, Mo.

OK, indeed. Since Rounder picked up “Signs & Signifiers” in April 2012, it's racked up rave reviews and was the most-played album of the year on Americana radio.

The video for McPherson's “North Side Gal” was an Internet sensation, drawing a million views since its release.

McPherson and his band have been on the road almost constantly since, rousing crowds across the U.S. and Europe, and millions of viewers on “Conan,” “The Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

At 8:15 p.m. Saturday, McPherson will rock the block as he headlines the roots-oriented Sailor Jerry Stage of Norman Music Festival 6.

“Yeah, it has been a really interesting year, for sure,” McPherson said. “We've been kind of workin' on this record for a little longer than that because it came out on the Hi-Style label, an independent label before that. But certainly when we jumped on with Rounder, that's when things kinda started to happen.”

Hi-Style is a Chicago-based indie label and analog studio owned by Jimmy Sutton, who produced “Signs & Signifiers” and plays standup bass in McPherson's trio, which also includes Alex Hall on drums, piano and organ.

“We're talkin' like a one-man operation versus a 30-, 40-people operation with parent companies and ties to PR firms, and things like that can kind of get a machine going,” McPherson said, comparing the two labels. “Things like that really help out, but it also helps to hit the road and tour as much as you can, and we certainly have done that.”

First love

Before his big breakthrough, McPherson, 36, who earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Tulsa, was teaching technology and art to fourth- through eighth-graders in Tulsa. Then, financial cutbacks were ordered.

“So the first thing institutions like that will do is they cut the arts,” he said. “And so they cut all the art teachers down to part-time and then I was the freshman of the group, the newest hire, so they just let me go altogether. So that's the way it goes.”

But McPherson had a wife and two small daughters to support.

So now was the time to find out if he could actually make a living indulging himself in his first love — making music.

“The great love of my life I guess is kind of rhythm 'n' blues and rock 'n' roll, but I've listened to and continue to listen to everything I could get my hands on, and I've always been consumed with this stuff since I was a kid,” said McPherson, who was born in Tulsa and grew up in southeastern Oklahoma near Talihina.

“It's like all I kinda really ever wanted to do is listen to records, read about records and collect records, and I just bought every magazine I could get my hands on, from like Rolling Stone to biographies to just, like, punk-rock fanzines to whatever, and so I think that whatever you're into is going to come out of ya at some point.”

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