Born in Madison, WI to an orchestra conductor and a piano instructor, John was surrounded by music from birth. Before John's first birthday, his family moved to southern California, where John's youth was spent studying music -- first on the piano at age 5 and then on the clarinet at age 8. When as a 10-year-old he first discovered the music of the Beatles, John began begging his parents for a guitar. Originally unenthusiastic about it, his parents stalled for two years in getting John his first guitar but eventually realized it was not a passing fad, but a true love affair with the instrument.
All throughout school John continued to study classical music, playing clarinet and bassoon in local orchestras -- and winning a few awards along the way. At the same time, he played in local rock bands at dances and frat parties, learning as much as he could about guitar from records or the occasional chance of seeing a guitarist live. He completed his education, earning a degree in woodwinds performance, all the while his heart set on a career playing the guitar.
Upon graduating from college, John toured Europe with a chamber orchestra as a bassoonist, played around the Hollywood area rock clubs with a "New Wave" band, and learned about recording, arrangement, and production techniques by making multitracked demos in his home studio. Frustrated by the shallowness of the LA club scene, John took a job at Disneyland, playing bluegrass mandolin, Dixieland clarinet, and Gypsy-jazz guitar. The rigors of performing 7 sets daily for audiences (with no stage or PA system) honed John's playing chops and performing skills over a period of many years.
In 1985, John met Chris Hillman and after a couple of short tours playing acoustic music together, they decided to form the Desert Rose Band. Quickly signed by Curb/MCA records, the band earned five consecutive #1 singles, two Grammy nominations, three ACM awards, and won the respect of fans, disc jockeys, and fellow musicians alike. During this time, John was voted ACM Guitarist Of The Year for three consecutive years.
By 1990, John felt stifled by the confines of the country format and left the Desert Rose Band to pursue a solo career. Twice he was sidetracked -- first by a one-time-only performance with fellow guitarists Will Ray and Jerry Donahue that grew into a 10 year partnership as the Hellecasters. Described as the "Three Tenors of the Electric Guitar," the humor and jaw-dropping technique of the Hellecasters' music drew the immediate attention of Michael Nesmith, who asked the band to do a CD for his new label in 1992. The resulting CD "Return of the Hellecasters" so impressed the readers of Guitar Player magazine that it was voted both Best Overall Guitar Album as well as Best Country Album of 1993.