John Heussenstamm


Although people tend to think of John Heussenstamm exclusively as a phenomenal blues guitarist and teacher, he plays and has studied different styles of music throughout his career, such as: jazz, from be-bop to modern; classical guitar; gospel; blues; and funk. The songs in this site's Music section reflect this diversity in his tastes: blues, light jazz, latin jazz, rock, funk/rock, new age, world music, and even hillbilly rock. It would probably be fair to say that John's eclectic interest in music has contributed to his strength as a blues rock guitarist.

John was born in Los Angeles, CA on December 28th, 1953, and when he was four he started taking piano lessons in Whittier, CA from his grandmother Erika. After seeing Louis Armstrong on TV, he became interested in the trumpet, and played from the fourth thru seventh grades. When he was nine, about the same time he was learning to play the trumpet, his aunt Bo gave John an electric bass guitar and amplifier. During that time, John played in several bands in the Whittier area, including one with Lawrence Ferrara, who is now a well-known classical guitarist and educator in San Francisco. Lawrence introduced John to the music of BB King and other top blues musicians of the sixties. In 1969, John moved to West Los Angeles and transferred to University (Uni) High School, where there was a strong music department. Very good pianist Stuart Elster introduced John to jazz, and John played bass in Stuart's band. It was during this period that John started entertaining the notion of becoming a professional guitarist, but John continued to play the bass until he graduated from Uni High in 1971.

After graduation, John went on a three month surf trip to Mexico and made the transition from bass to guitar. He had a four track tape in his VW bus, and listened to and practiced the music of George Benson, Jimi Hendrix, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, and Wes Montgomery. Shortly after returning from Mexico, John joined a modern, neo-classical type of rock band from Montana called "The Magic Castle", led by Mike Rapp. John stayed with this group for about a year and a half, and then left to explore jazz/fusion, which was just coming onto the scene. Steve Bader, the bassist from "Magic Castle", got John an audition for the New Orleans band "Lovera". Then 21 years old, John passed the audition, accepted their offer, and toured with them throughout the Midwest and South for three months. On tour while in Dallas, TX, John felt he had the potential to become a blues guitarist with impact.

After leaving "Lovera", John played with guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Chuck Smith. At the time, Chuck was the only white artist who had signed with Motown. In the late 70's, John joined the Surf Punks, a crazy, satirical punk rock and surf band formed by Malibu residents Dennis Dragon and Drew Steele. It was during this period that John became known as "Johnny Malibu". The Surf Punks recorded on Enigma and Epic Records, and they made an album called "My Beach", that included songs written, sung, and played by John. However, John decided to take his career in a different direction, so he moved on after playing two concerts with the group. Notwithstanding that decision, John released a new Johnny Malibu CD in 1994 with Dennis Dragon and Drew Steele.

In 1977, at the age of 23, John joined the Deniece Williams band, and performed for three months as a guitarist with the group. They opened for many famous soul groups such as KC and the Sunshine Band, Earth Wind and Fire, The Commodores, The Brothers Johnson, Lionel Ritchie, Al Green, the Ohio Players, LTD, and more. These were among the top soul groups of the day, and John got to see them up close many times. John then left Deniece's band, and headed to Australia to visit his brother and do some surfing. While there, John fell in love with the surroundings and his future wife, Julie. Rather than perform initially, John practiced for five months straight at a farmhouse in the Western part of the continent. On his way back to the U.S., John stopped over in India and took music lessons from a bansuri (bamboo flute) musician named Tublu. John used the exercises Tublu showed him to improve his jazz style. Once back in the States, John got married and moved to San Rafael, CA, so that he could attend the Ali Akbar College of Indian Music. Even though Ali Akbar Khan was a master of classical Indian sarod, he indirectly convinced John to pursue his development as a blues guitarist. In total John spent about two years studying music with only occasional public performances. John has always taught guitar and worked in music shops to supplement his income when he wasn't touring. He has been teaching guitar on and off for over 30 years, and has given thousands of individual lessons, both in the U.S. and in Australia.    >>> continued >>>

In the news: Laguna's quintessential guitar man