I had the good fortune of seeing singer/songwriter John Tibbs play live about a year ago when he opened for the Newsboys. He proved to be an incredible performer that immediately captured the attention of the audience with his sincerity and emotive voice. In a recent interview with the troubadour–who just released his debut, Dead Man Walking, with Fair Trade Services–Tibbs revealed he grew up on Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Tom Petty and made the decision to pursue music at a Crowder concert in junior high. Until recently, Tibbs attempted to hide a speech impediment that’s plagued him for most of his life. Now, he’s done with hiding, and as he shares below, he’s ready to live and sing honestly just like his musical heroes.
1. You grew up listening to Springsteen, Mellencamp and Petty. How did they sonically and lyrically influence Dead Man Walking?
I grew up in rural Western Pennsylvania. American classics like those guys became the soundtrack of my childhood. It was like they were everywhere. I’d hear their songs at school, between innings at ballgames, when we were out to eat. I love that about my childhood.
I think those sounds began to seep into me and plant roots. The thing that influenced me the most about these artists was the emotion. You never had to question if they were serious–you knew they meant every single word they sang. That means a lot to me, and that’s been the single greatest influence on my music and writing. When people hear my music, I want them to hear my heart above anything else.
2. What was your experience like recording the title track with Ellie Holcomb?
Oh man, Ellie is wonderful. She’s an incredible vocalist and such a sweet person. It was an honor to have her sing with me on “Dead Man Walking.”
3. As a preacher’s kid, did you ever take growing up in the church for granted? Looking back, how did those years as a PK pave the way for your work in music ministry today?
I don’t think I took it for granted; I loved church. My parents were really incredible because they were intentional in letting me be a kid. I came to know a wonderful community there in Punxsutawney that really loved me. I’m so grateful for that family. I learned so much before I moved away for school. Above all, I experienced grace and acceptance, just the way I was. I hope that’s something I never forget.
4. What was it about that Crowder concert in junior high that put this dream in your heart to pursue music over sports?
I played sports all the way through high school, but that night at the Crowder show planted something in me that I couldn’t shake. It was inspiring to see the way his music connected everyone in the room to each other, and ultimately to Jesus. I knew then that I wanted to spend my life making music that does just that.
5. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from having a speech impairment and depending on God in the midst of that weakness?
I’ve learned that it’s OK. I tried to hide from it or cover it up for so long, but a few years ago I had to quit that. I couldn’t keep up with that demand–it was exhausting. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “In our weakness, His power is perfect.” Whew. Every time I read/hear/say that verse I call it my own. I think it’s helped me understand grace far beyond a stutter, but in every aspect of my life. Because of that grace, I have hope. That’s what I want to share with people: the freedom to be yourself, because you are enough; and that God’s love covers all of our shortcomings.
6. What are the last three songs on your personal playlist that you listened to?
Ah, I love these questions. I’m addicted to music! The last 3 songs were:
“New York, New York” – Live at Carnegie Hall, Ryan Adams
“24 Frames” – Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell
“Better Man” – Coming Home, Leon Bridges
And one more for good measure… “Here Comes the Sun” – Abbey Road (Remastered), The Beatles