John “Johnny B.” Bushell performs “Rhythm of the North” at Pier One.-Photo provided

John “Johnny B.” Bushell performs “Rhythm of the North” at Pier One.-Photo provided

Johnny B. captures ‘Rhythm of the North’ in his Pier One show

Confucius once said that if you do what you love then you never have to work a day in your life. Clearly Confucius didn’t have an adorable grandson moving from Alaska to Wyoming. He probably didn’t have a mortgage, either.

Such is the life of Homer’s Johnny B. — a professional piano player, teacher, father of two and grandfather of a little boy who’s about to move from Fairbanks to the Lower 48.

“If you’re going to be a full-time musician and live in Alaska, playing shows locally and around the state is not going to do it,” says John Bushell, otherwise known as Johnny B. “So, I created a five-year plan to establish myself in the Lower 48 to earn enough to live here. Right now, I’m in year four of my plan.”

For the past few years, Bushell has been performing at festivals and arts council events throughout Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington. He’s best known for playing Boogie Woogie, an energetic, up-tempo, piano style that originated from the blues and became popular in the late 1920s. 

Boogie Woogie requires physical stamina, strength and remarkable dexterity. Watching Johnny B. at the keys, you’ll notice that his left and right hand operate so independently that it sounds as if he’s playing with an extra set of arms.

But there’s more to Bushell than wild piano tunes.

“I’m so much more than a Boogie Woogie piano player,” says Bushell. “My music comes from my heart and reflects my emotions, experiences and all that’s around me.”

His latest work, “The Rhythm of the North,” is a celebration of Alaska and the place he’s called home since 1981. 

“The Rhythm of the North” is in its second year at Pier One Theatre on the Homer Spit. It blends original piano scores composed and performed by Bushell with stunning aerial video segments by Daniel Zatz and photography by Brad Lewis. 

“For those who are new here, the show is a great introduction to Alaska,” says Bushell.

Stories about life in the last frontier are woven throughout the show with the odd jab at naïve newcomers. 

“It’s the first time I’ve seen Johnny B. play in a full-length performance,” says Jim Lavrakas, Executive Director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce. “It was a really well thought out and fun show with a good variety of music style. He’s got such a winning manner and he’s so enthusiastic. His use of new media in the show was really neat.”

There’s no moss growing under this rolling stone. Between gigs you’ll often find Bushell behind the wheel of his Prius, making the long drive from Homer to Fairbanks to spend time with his 1-year-old grandson. 

His grandson is moving to Wyoming later this year and Bushell’s making the most of their time in Alaska.

“It’s going to be hard to be farther away from him, which makes my five-year plan all the more important,” says Bushell.

On one of his trips to Fairbanks, Bushell snapped a photo of the Alaska Range. He toyed with the photo when he got home and as he did, he became inspired to compose a musical piece around it. 

His yet unnamed composition follows the peaks and valleys of the range with an eventual crescendo at Denali’s peak. 

Last spring, Bushell applied for and was awarded a two-week residency at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Wyoming. He spent two weeks at the foundation’s ranch outside Laramie composing his piece and practicing his music.

“The foundation offers these residencies to support artists and give them uninterrupted time to work on a project,” says Bushell. “I got to work in a renovated pioneer school building with a gorgeous Steinway piano at my service 24/7.” 

“John was a pleasure to meet and enjoy while he was here at Brush Creek Ranch,” says Sharon Hawkins, director of the Brush Creek Ranch Foundation. “He played portions of the piece for me personally while he was working and composing in the studio here at BCFA, and it was amazing.

“He shared his inspiration and the process of creating his piece as it traveled along above the peaks of the majestic Alaskan mountain range,” Hawkins says. “It was breathtaking to listen to the music, and I was imagining myself scanning 360 degrees from on top of an Alaskan peak as he played.”

The piece is a ways from being completed, but Bushell’s time in residency propelled it forward. His residency also allowed him to make important business connections in the state of Wyoming leading to future bookings and of course, time with his grandson.

“Rhythm of the North” plays at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays until Aug. 5.

More in Community

The masthead for the Homer Weekly News.
Years Ago

Homer happenings from years past

Homer High School. (Homer News file photo)
School announcements

School district risk level update and upcoming events

Homer writer Richard Chiappone. (Photo by Joshua Veldstra)
‘Hunger of Crows’ perfect for winter reading

Chiappone’s first novel is set in Homer, Anchor Point.

A scene of the Grinch who stole Christmas lights up the yard of a home along Bear Creek Drive on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Kachemak City, Alaska. In place of the annual garden of lights, Bear Creek Winery hosted a driving tour of holiday lights with Bear Creek Drive neighbors this year. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
‘Let it Glow’ holiday lights campaign and competition announced

Event encourages people to create festive holiday-light displays

The moon rises over the Kenai Mountains and Beluga Lake at about 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Homer’s Best Bets

We’re going into another cold week, Betster persons, all the more reason… Continue reading

File photo by Michael Armstrong / Homer News
Ben Mitchell, left, serves spaghetti to helper Pat Wells in the kitchen at a past Share the Spirit spaghetti feed.
Looking to share some holiday spirit? Here’s how

As the holiday season approaches, one organization is continuing its 29-year mission… Continue reading

Town Crier

Bear Creek Winery Garden of Lights will return this December with Christmas… Continue reading

Khaleesi (Photo courtest of Alaska Mindful Paws)
Pet of the week: Khaleesi

Khaleesi is a sweet girl looking to find her furever home. She… Continue reading

Before boiling, this handmade pasta is rolled, cut and tossed in flour to keep from sticking. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Pasta by hand

The first kitchen job I interviewed for was a saute position in… Continue reading

Most Read