Harmonica/Guitar/Keyboards, 1998-2000 and 2003-2005

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John performing with The Professors at The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ, December 4, 2011

Photograph by Deborah Goodsite

John Barrows is the son of a jazz bassist and pianist and has been playing music since early childhood. His first instrument was the trombone, because the family for some reason had one, but it was not John's choice. After denting pots and pans in the basement with drumsticks, John's father bought him a set of drums, and John spent his high school years playing drums in garage bands. In college, John gave up the drums and worked as a DJ. After college, he decided to resume playing music and chose the harmonica as a low-risk starting point. He taught himself the harp over a period of a couple years, then picked up an acoustic guitar. An afinity for fingerpicking styles led naturally to banjo; and thereafter, a flirtation with the mandolin. John eventually got into multitrack recording in order to play these different instruments in an ensemble manner. Today, John records songs playing electric & acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, piano, organ, bass, percussion, and harmonica, and by necessity sings when no better vocalist can be found.


From Radford, G. P., Cooper, S. D., Kubey, R. W., McCurry, D. S., Millen, J., and Barrows, J. R. (2002). Collaborative Musical Expression and Creativity Among Academics: When Intellectualism Meets Twelve Bar Blues. American Communication Journal [Online] Volume 6, Issue 1, Fall 2002.

Despite lengthy professional writing experience in the public relations business, and several dubious but serious forays into poetry, I was never able to write songs. For many years, I was content to play other people's music, and I wondered why I was unable to bring my enthusiasm for wordplay to the creation of lyrics. Eventually, I succeeded in writing some couplets to the tune of another song. Knowing that I could never proudly display a song comprised of my original lyrics but Bob Dylan's music (although this was the primary compositional practice of Dylan's muse, Woody Guthrie), I eventually sent the lyrics to a friend, who set them to music, creating something entirely original and compelling.

This inspired me to set about writing lyrics at a furious pace, but I quickly found that there was at once both a limitless number of things to write about, and nothing to write about. There seemed to be fresh material all around me, just beyond arm's reach, with every idea or scrap of couplets seeming to just repeat the efforts of other writers before me, all of whom inevitably had far better captured the essence of the song.

It was during these weeks that I first began studying flow theory, the premise that there is a process which guides breakthroughs in creative thought (see Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). One of the consistent events that occurs in this process is a deliberate stoppage of effort against a particular challenge or project, putting all conscious thought aside for a period of time. It is typically during this time, when the conscious mind is not actively working on the matter at hand, that a solution appears. Often the best ideas I had for new songs, new lines, new ideas for songs, occurred to me while I was most deeply absorbed in academic challenges, such as statistical analyses, or thinking through the ramifications of a new theory contemplated for the first time. Some of these ideas were songs tangentially about academia, including "Peer Review" and "The Space Left Empty," the latter inspired by the writing of Michel Foucault.

Eventually, it occurred to me to see if the reverse could be achieved. I spent a summer and fall analyzing a dataset and looking for something new, arranging and re-arranging the variables and subjects into different combinations, looking at different approaches from related and unrelated fields of thought, with little success. During these months I had begun a routine of walking around the perimeter of the gymnasium where I exercised each morning, to cool off after a workout. The rhythm of my footsteps always lent itself to song writing, and I came up with many ideas in this manner. I decided to see if I could think about my academic challenge during the workout but then put the matter aside and concentrate on songwriting during the walk; it did not work. Eventually, I gave up on trying to force flow theory to bend to my will, acknowledging that there was little in the literature to support the notion that it could be wielded quite so much like a socket wrench.

Some time later, having forgotten about flow theory, I was walking around the familiar hardwood floor humming a new melody and developing a new and, to me at least, compelling song premise, when out of the blue a flash of energy pulsed in my brain and an obvious possible explanation for my data-set behavior, one that had never been considered within the literature: a chance to contribute a new idea to the body of study. This idea was prominent in an article that was recently published in the Journal of Communication(see Kubey, Lavin, & Barrows, 2001). From song lyrics to intellectual breakthroughs - it seems that both musical and intellectual creativity are deeply connected.

John's amazing songwriting credits for The Professors include:

The following six songs were co-written with Gary Radford:

This page last updated July 6, 2013 by Gary Radford.
Many thanks to Kurt Wagner, Marie Radford, and Jon Oliver.