Song Premiere

John Pedigo Pours One Out for His Late Father With a New Set of Songs Inspired by Tragedy

John Pedigo's father died of cancer in May 2017. As a tribute to him, Pedigo wrote an album about his death.
John Pedigo's father died of cancer in May 2017. As a tribute to him, Pedigo wrote an album about his death. Cal Quinn
If you’ve been even remotely plugged into the Dallas music scene, you’ve probably encountered John Pedigo. The Dallas native has spent time playing grunge, rockabilly and punk rock for rowdy and inebriated audiences of 10 and massive festival and theater stages where the crowds swelled to thousands.

Most recently, he’s been one-half of the O’s, an energetic, roots-influenced duo that has released four full-length albums and spent the better part of the past decade on an unceasing touring schedule traversing North America and Europe. Along the way, Pedigo's music has earned comparisons to many leading lights of the alt-country and Americana genres, and he’s carved out an impressive group of well-known champions, including Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller, a past tour-mate.

While the O’s are still going strong, Pedigo’s latest project is a deeply personal affair written while in the grip of tragedy and grief. Pedigo’s Magic Pilsner — named after an infamously bad batch of homebrew that his father concocted at home one year — is the name of the album and band that serves as a tribute to his father, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2016. As he was processing the shock of this news, Pedigo set out to write and record a cycle of songs that would pay tribute to his father’s legacy.

With the idea that the songs could also serve as a form of entertainment while the health battle was at the forefront of his family’s attention, Pedigo began work soon after the diagnosis, and the prognosis reports, for a while, at least, seemed promising. However, Pedigo’s father died in May 2017. Rather than shelving the project, Pedigo pressed on, a process he found beneficial.

“I hate to use the word cathartic, but it certainly was that to a certain degree,” Pedigo explains in press announcements accompanying the album’s release. Soon, he was calling friends and tracking the songs into a cohesive album structure.

The results are stunning and multifaceted. More like a collection of short stories than a unified novel, the album explores various characters experiencing uncharacteristic circumstances. “The Comedian” chronicles the surprises and fluctuations that accompany the attempt to balance healthy relationships while spending most of your time on the road. “Call The Kettle Black” deals with the complex emotions of broken vows and decisions filled with regret.

Elsewhere, on the breezy “Garage Sale,” a heartbroken narrator contemplates the epiphanies of new beginnings. A few tracks later, on “Some Days,” a man spends his time hoping and praying for proper ways to mend a broken heart. It’s a collection of deep subject matter interjected with spirit, zest and a multitude of musical arrangements. Rather than a dirge, the album seeks to celebrate and embrace the life cycle, even the parts that hurt.

"I’ve been lucky so far, being compared to folks like Josh Ritter and Justin Townes Earle. Those are two artists I highly admire and study. It’s never tiresome to be compared to great songwriters." — John Pedigo

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Nearly two years in the making, Pedigo’s Magic Pilsner’s self-titled LP will be released Friday. Recently, we caught up with Pedigo over email to chat about the album, his music’s perception, and his thoughts on life in Dallas.

There are a lot of singer-songwriters and likeminded bands that critics have compared your work to. Which, if any, do you feel your music most closely compares to? Are these comparisons flattering, or do they become tiresome?
It’s the nature of this beast, right? Artists need to make succinct elevator pitches, and “sounds-likes” are the quickest path. I’ve been lucky so far, being compared to folks like Josh Ritter and Justin Townes Earle. Those are two artists I highly admire and study. It’s never tiresome to be compared to great songwriters. I’ve been around for quite some time in different bands. While many folks know my sound, most people don’t yet. So communicating the overall vision with people in any way possible is valuable. The O’s are always compared to bands like Mumford and Sons and Avett Brothers. I never had a problem with that.

Were any of the songs on the Magic Pilsner album works in progress before your father’s illness became the impetus for the album?
Sort of. I’m always writing, of course. Two of the songs were shelved because they weren’t really O’s cuts to be. “Some Days” was supposed to be on the O’s second album, Between the Two, but didn’t work out. “Garage Sale” could have been on the next one but essentially didn’t make sense with its negative space for the O’s sparse instrumentation. Thematically speaking, they fit into the overall landscape of the Pils record, which is essentially darker while trying to hold on to hope in a seldom hopeless reality.

Who worked with you on the album?

While not only being a musician that’s lived here my whole life, I’ve also been lucky enough to produce many records here: Vandoliers, 40 Acre Mule, Joshua Ray Walker, etc. So, of course, I called in a lot of favors from buddies. I love being in the studio and working with different people. Everyone has unique ideas and convictions, and it’s exciting being around that energy. On this record, I had the guys I usually call for session work — Chad Stockslager on keys, Trey Pendergrass on drums and Danny Balis on bass. I also had Ken Bethea from Old 97’s on accordion, Chris Holt on guitar for a couple of songs, Cory Graves from the Vandos on horns, Buffi Jacobs on cello. The whole thing was cut at Audio Dallas, and while I was at the helm most of the time, I couldn’t have done it without Trey Johnson, who helped engineer when I was tracking myself and told me I sounded bad when I did.

What are your thoughts on touring behind this collection of songs? Any particular plans or thoughts on Dallas?
I’m certainly trying to hit the road. It’s what I do — tour. It’s the world I know and understand. Of course, I wanna take this band out there because it’s good and I think people will like it. I believe the songs speak truths that are relatable. [Long pause.] To answer part two of the question, I love Dallas. I don’t work in city planning, but I’d like to see more unused, rentable bikes.

I’m playing this Friday at Club Dada, where we’re releasing vinyl and CDs of the new self-titled record. Also Saturday at Good Records. Other than that, catch me at the Landing.

Pedigo’s Magic Pilsner album release show is 8 p.m. Friday at Club Dada. Tickets are $10. At 4 p.m. Saturday, he’ll perform a free show with Chad Stockslager, Trey Pendergrass and Rocky Garza at Good Records.
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Jeff Strowe now calls DFW home after stints living in Raleigh, North Carolina, and New York City. He enjoys writing about music, books, beer/wine and sports. His work is also featured in Glide Magazine and PopMatters, and he has written for No Depression.