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John Butler

Background information
Born 1 April 1975 (1975-04-01) (age 34),
Torrance, California, United States
Genres Bluegrass, alternative rock, jam band
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, electric guitar, twelve-string guitar, harmonica, didgeridoo, banjo, lap steel guitar, stomp box, ukulele, baritone saxophone
Years active 1996 - present
Labels Jarrah
Associated acts The John Butler Trio
The Waifs
Notable instruments
1930s Dobro
Maton twelve string

John Butler (born 1 April 1975) is an Australian musician. He is the frontman of the John Butler Trio, a band that has achieved two platinum records in Australia with Three (2001) and Living 2001-2002 (2003). Their album Sunrise Over Sea debuted at number one on 15 March 2004 and shipped gold in its first week of release.


Early musical career

John Butler was born in Torrance, California, USA, to an Australian father, Darryl, and an American mother, Barbara (also a Butler but not related).[1] Following the divorce of his parents, Butler migrated to Australia with his father, brother and sister on 26 January 1986.[2][3] He was named after his paternal grandfather, a forestry worker who died in 1952 while fighting a bushfire in Nannup, Western Australia. He moved to the small Western Australian town of Pinjarra on 26 January 1986 when he was ten, where he attended Pinjarra Senior High School.

At sixteen, he started to learn the guitar and his grandmother gave him his grandfather's 1930s dobro guitar.[2][3] This guitar was to be presented to the first grandchild to learn the guitar, as none of his grandfather's children took up the guitar.[4] It is still one of Butler's most treasured possessions.

In 1996, Butler attended Curtin University in Perth studying to be an art teacher.[4] At Curtin University, he learned open tunings which allowed him to appreciate and play Celtic and Indian music as composed for traditional guitar. He started busking on the streets of Perth where his home grown compositions received a strong response. In mid 1996, he released a self-recorded cassette of his own instrumental compositions called Searching for Heritage which eventually sold 3,000 copies in Perth. By the end of 1996, he had dropped out of Curtin University to pursue a musical career and started playing at open mic nights.

Butler began his musical career as a busker in Fremantle before achieving his current fame. Phil Stevens, a local music promoter who later became Butler's manager, was one of the people who bought Searching for Heritage. He offered Butler his first residency every second Tuesday at the North Fremantle bar, 'Mojos', which he owned in 1998.[5] John Butler further built his fan base at these gigs and by the end of 1998, he was planning his first professionally recorded album.

John Butler Trio

His band's first two releases, John Butler in 1998 and JBT EP in 2000 were moderately successful, allowing him to establish a largely word-of-mouth following. The breakthrough came with the band's second album, Three, in 2001. The album featured the tracks "Take" and "Betterman", both of which received considerable radio airplay on Australian alternative youth radio station Triple J and rated highly in their annual Top 100. Appearances at Big Day Out, Woodford Folk Festival, and other major festivals followed.

By the time Sunrise Over Sea was released three years later, the single "Zebra" was getting extensive airplay on commercial radio and proved a major hit for the band.[6] In 2006, the band promoted the album extensively in the United States.

Life as a musician

Butler is outspoken with his political beliefs, often making political statements advocating peace, environmental protection, and worldwide love and respect at his performances.[7] He has supported the The Wilderness Society and the Save Ningaloo Reef campaign.[7] He was also known for a long time for his signature dreadlocks, which he cut off in 2008 : "Yes I finally cut them and it feels great! Been thinking about it for awhile and just had to do it. Although I like dreadlocks, they just weren't what I was feeling anymore and I needed a change".[8] His long pointed acrylic fingernails, which are required for the unique finger picking style he uses in certain songs, are another one of his trademarks.

Management activities

Butler and his manager Phil Stevens run their own record label, Jarrah Records, thus entitling him to a much bigger share of the revenues from album sales than is typically the case for artists contracted to record labels.[9] The Waifs also own part of the company, and have released recordings under the label.

The JB Seed

In 2005 John Butler and co-founder Danielle Caruana inaugurated the JB Seed grant program to support artistic expression and encourage the "social, cultural and artistic diversity in Australian society".[10]

In its first year John and Danielle invested $80,000 toward the grants project, almost all of which was given away in grants.[11] Since then they have enlisted the financial support of Paul Kelly, Correne Wilkie (Manager, The Cat Empire), Paul and Michelle Gilding (Ecoscorp), Maureen Ritchie, Missy Higgins, John Watson (Eleven Music), John Woodruff (JWM Productions), Sebastian Chase (MGM Distribution) and Philip Stevens (Jarrah Records), The Waifs and Blue King Brown[12]

The grant has grown to give over $95,000 in 2006, $110,000 in 2007 and $125,000 in 2008 to artists across categories for indigenous music, social activism through the arts and professional development within the music industry.[13]


Butler playing at the Tamworth Country Music Festival
John Butler - Live in Concert in 2008

Butler's live performances are influenced by his experience as a former busker in Fremantle. His playing style incorporates Western and Eastern styles such as blues, Indian and Celtic. He also performs lengthy instrumental solo pieces including "Ocean", "Mist", "Spring" and "Under an Indian Sky".


John is able to play harmonica, didgeridoo, drums and chooses amplified acoustic instruments such as the 12-string (although he removes the higher octave G string due to personal preferences he learned from his guitar teacher Ori Rossi)[14], lapsteel and banjo (in his recent productions). Butler uses mainly Maton 12 strings, and amplifies them using a Marshall Amplification JMP Super Lead Head, with a Marshall 4x12 cabinet, recognisable by the Southern Cross Flag painted on the front. He has a variety of effects including: distortion, reverb/delay and wah wah pedal effects to achieve a unique sound.[15]

BRW Rich List

John Butler has been referred to as the "Million Dollar Hippie" in and around his home town of Fremantle. In an interview with the Herald Sun Newspaper in 2008 John Butler acknowledged that he had been referred to by this nickname in various articles.[16]

The "Million Dollar Hippie" nickname stems from his status on the BRW Rich List.[17] In 2004, John Butler first made the BRW Rich List with reported earnings of 2.4 million dollars.[17] His income in that year was higher than mainstream entertainers such as Rex Hunt, Shannon Noll and Portia De Rossi.[17]

Current projects

The present rhythm section for The John Butler Trio comprises Nicky Bomba (drums) and Byron Luiters (bass). Previous members are drummers Michael Barker (2003–2009) and Jason McGann (1998–2002), and bass players Shannon Birchall (2002–2009), Gavin Shoesmith (1998–2001) Rory Quirk (2001–2002) and Andrew Fry (April 2002-November 2002).

In September 2006, John Butler Trio released a promotional studio diary of their recording progress of their latest album, Grand National, which was released in March 2007. In December 2006, the Funky Tonight EP was released, coming off an expected future album including many tracks from their live shows, such as "Daniella", "Fire In the Sky", and "Funky Tonight".

After its release on 24 March 2007, in Australia, John's Grand National album went straight to number 1 on the ARIA music album charts and the following week on 5 April 2007 the John Butler Trio performed a free show at Melbourne entertainment hub, Federation Square. The one off performance featured all the other musicians who had collaborated on Grand National, including Vika and Linda Bull and Jex Saarhelart, with Nicky Bomba making a guest return for "Groovin Slowly"'.

At the 2007 ARIA Awards, he performed "Funky Tonight" in a collaboration with fellow Australian musician Keith Urban. Triple J listeners voted Grand National their favourite album for 2007.[18]

In July 2009 Butler undertook a solo overseas tour commencing in North America, where he was invited to play, for the first time, at the Montreal Jazz Festival, before performing at the Rothbury Music Festival in Michigan and The Mile High Music Festival in Denver. In North America he sold out headline shows in Toronto and Los Angeles. In Europe Butler played at the Folies Bergere in Paris and at the Union Chapel in London. He also performed at Cannes, Amsterdam and Antwerp.

Butler performed at the Paul Kelly tribute put on by Triple J, Butler sang Kelly's classic song, How To Make Gravy.

Upon his return in August 2009 he took part in the 'Cannot Buy My Soul' Concert which was part of the Queensland Music Festival. Butler performed alongside a number of other local musicians (including Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins, Troy Cassar-Daley, Clare Bowditch, Tex Perkins and Bernard Fanning) reinterpreting the catalogue of Kev Carmody.[19]

Butler then headed to Northeast Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory where he participated at the Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures.

Personal life

John Butler met his wife Danielle Caruana in Broome in 1999. They have two children, a daughter named Banjo, and a son named Jahli.[2] Danielle is also an independent musician in Australia and sings back-up vocals on the band's Sunrise Over Sea and Grand National album and has her own music name; "Mama Kin"

Media appearances

On the 21 October 2009 Butler featured on SBS Television's documentary called Destination Australia - Bridge Between Two Worlds performing to refugee children in a class at Highgate Primary School in Perth.[20]

Butler appeared on an episode of SBS Television’s genealogy series, Who Do You Think You Are, which aired on 1 November 2009.[3] The show traced his family history through to Bulgaria and the events of the April Uprising.



With The John Butler Trio

See The John Butler Trio



  1. ^ Matera, Joe. "John Butler Trio". Australian Musician. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Cowan, Sean (26 September 2009). "Musician traces his ancestry to radicals". The West Australian (West Australian Newspapers Ltd): p. 18. 
  3. ^ a b c "Who Do You Think You Are: John Butler". SBS. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Mathieson, Craig (10 August 2007). "How Butler did it". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 
  5. ^ Donovan, Patrick (16 December 2005). "Little Aussie butler". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 
  6. ^ Moran, Jonathon (17 March 2007). "Butler is off again".,23739,21393600-5003421,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  7. ^ a b "Busking Butler". 19 October 2004. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  8. ^ "Butler cuts dreads". 28 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  9. ^ Bunworth, Mick (12 July 2004). "John Butler Trio - rewriting the rule book". ABC TV. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  10. ^ Donovan, Patrick (8 January 2005). "Musician Sows Seeds for Others". The Age. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  11. ^ Strickland, Katrina (28 April 2006). "Pay Back". The Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  12. ^ "JB Seed Contributors". 9 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  13. ^ "JB Seed Successful Applicants". 9 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  14. ^ "The John Butler Trio "Grand National" tour". The Washington Post. 18 May 2007. 
  15. ^ "John Butler's Equipment Picks". Acoustic Guitar.,6692,PLAYERSPOTLIGHT-1.asp. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  16. ^ Adams, Cameron (31 January 2008). "John Butler talks awards, album sales and the duty to share". Herald Sun.,21985,23137476-2902,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  17. ^ a b c Te Koha, Nui (21 August 2007). "John Butler has made it on the BRW rich list". Perth Now.,21598,22282321-5014260,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  18. ^ "Triple J Best Album lists". Triple J. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  19. ^ "Cannot Buy My Soul". Queensland Music Festival. Retrieved 2 October 2009. 
  20. ^ "Destination Australia - Bridge Between Two Worlds". SBS Television. 21 October 2009. Retrieved 2 November 2009. 

External links


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