You know his face from Too’s. You hear his voice every weekend at Three’s. Now, it’s time to get to know the solo cover band man, John White.
John White has all the tools to be considered an artist—a good singing voice, knowledge of instruments, a stage, a mic, plenty of fans—yet he doesn’t consider himself as such.
“I’m an entertainer. There’s a big difference,” he said from a slouched position in the back of coffee shop, under the guise of dark shades, a plether jacket, mesh pants, and a bally beanie.
White is the guy you used to scream all the words to “Party in the USA” over at Too’s and who is still the guy you scream all the words to “Party in the USA” over at Three’s. He’s the cover jockey, the singer, and the guy with the guitar.
“I’m just creating an atmosphere,” he said modestly and matter-of-factly. “I’m just a voice. For many years, people couldn’t even see me.”
White’s been with the owners of Too’s since day seven—he met the owner, Scott Ellsworth, just a week after he opened the bar. He took the stage behind a wall of smoke (smoking indoors has been prohibited in Ohio for years, yet Too’s managed to always, always be smoking) shortly after that and has never left.
White’s right about not having a good vantage point in Too’s—his stage was a mere lip off the sticky cement floor where all of us basement dwellers drunkenly swayed. Pair that with a fire-hazardly crowded room and a few bottles of $10 champagne, it was impossible to see anything at all.
But nevertheless, White played.
“ People are going to have a good time on their own; sometimes they just need a gentle push in the right direction. ’’
When news came of the Too’s impending demise, like the rest of the staff, White took it hard. It had become a home of sorts to him—a cold, dark, stenchy home. Little did he and the rest of the staff know they’d be able to practically scoop Too’s straight out of the ground and replant it a few blocks north without tainting its roots at all.
And here, in their brand new digs with the exact same “leave your cool at the door” culture White talks about, he takes the stage once again. Except this time, you can actually see him. The stage at Three’s is a legit stage.
And yet he says, “I don’t like being on stage and being like ‘listen to how well I can sing.’ It’s not about me; it’s about them having a good time.”
He’s also the guy that has no problems telling you to shut the hell up when you request a song while he’s playing. Maybe he’s a little rude for that, but perhaps you are too for suggesting “All The Small Things” by Blink-182 while he’s trying to perform. White thrives on the friendly shit-talking that goes on during his sets—he throws shade at someone in the crowd, they throw it right back.
So this guy is saying he doesn’t like all the attention of being in front of screaming drunk people, and we’re expected to believe him?
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m beginning to.
White isn’t some yuppy waiting for his big break or a fierce independent determined to make it big on his own. He’s done the DJing thing—17 years old and in a strip club—and the Nashville thing, too. He’s not too interested in revisiting it. If he was, he would’ve dipped out of the cover singing bar scene a long, long time ago.
“I’ve played “Don’t Stop Believin’” about 80 hours of my life. I stopped believing a long time ago,” he said, actually cracking a laugh during an otherwise straight-faced interview.
People don’t necessarily go to Three’s to see and hear the guy on stage playing covers of their favorite hits from the early 2000s, but they do go to have a good time, which White helps create.
“It’s not about the music. Music is just a tool to have a good time,” he said. “People are going to have a good time on their own; sometimes they just need a gentle push in the right direction. I’m just lightly steering the ship.”
Over the years, White has been accused of being conceited. To that, White says, “Seeing other people happy makes me happy.”
Cheesy, overused, and totally cliche. But I actually buy it.
Photos were shot by Collins Laatsch.