Yet really, it’s only beginning.” Each year the competition begins in the spring with more than 450 country radio stations producing live shows to find the best new talent in their market. These winners advance to state and then regional competitions throughout the summer and fall before competing at the National Final in January. Bulford, who recently scored a highly coveted endorsement deal with manufacturing powerhouse Taylor Guitars, came close to the mountaintop experience with the Colgate competition before as a Florida finalist in 2003 and Florida State winner in 2004. He’s following in the giant footsteps of some of today’s top country artists who also competed in past local, state, regional and National competitions, including Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Billy Ray Cyrus, Sara Evans and Miranda Lambert. Not that he minds the superstar company—the way things are going, he’ll probably be opening for those artists sooner than later. At the tender age of 24, the seasoned performer—whose competition accolades also include placing second in the Recording Academy sponsored Florida Grammys in 2007—has already opened major shows for Collin Raye, The Warren Brothers, Josh Turner, Emerson Drive, Chris Cagle, Diamond Rio, Tracy Lawrence, Tanya Tucker, Montgomery Gentry, John Anderson, Gretchen Wilson, Blake Shelton, Colt Ford, Justin Moore, Jamey Johnson, Trick Pony, Jason Michael Carroll and even Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night fame. Bulford is active on the charity circuit and recently performed an acoustic benefit concert for cancer research and medical grants at the University of Central Florida, where he’s taken time off from his pursuit of a master’s in business and marketing. This whirlwind of activity is leading up to the highly anticipated release of Livin It Up, which features tracks written or co-written and produced by the singer and collaborations with renowned Nashville songwriting heavyweights, the Grammy nominated Charlie Craig (Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton) and Robert Arthur (Brad Paisley, Mark Chesnutt).
Many of the songs are currently available on his MySpace site (www.myspace.com/johnbulford), and a pre-release of the album is for sale online and at his live performances. “Even though there are a lot of strong ballads on the new album, it’s definitely a happier, more upbeat set than What Happens Here Stays Here and my (2005) debut Southern Thing,” Bulford says. “As a songwriter, I would say that I write based on experiences in my own life as well as being observational—I even write love songs based on observing the relationships of people around me. The title track ‘Livin It Up’ started with my idea of a hook that said, ‘I’ve been livin it up, now I’m trying to live it down. But it’s not a reckless party song, more about mischievous small town things like stealing the mascot and pouring soapsuds in the fountain by city hall.” “Then,” he adds, “there’s ‘Real World’ which was inspired by my experiences and those of my friends during our college years.
I wonder what we all have to show for our time then. We spent a lot of time partying, but did we really learn anything? On a more reflective, inspirational note, I really like the ballad ‘Remember The Brave,’ which is a song dedicated to our troops.” Being a prolific songwriter helps set Bulford apart from the many wonderful singers in country music who rely on the magic of Music City songwriters for their material. Speaking of his preference to record his own material, he says, “I know many artists in Nashville love to draw incredible songs from the well of amazing writers in Music City, but I love writing and singing my own songs and to be honest, would feel weird singing someone else’s songs all the time—not that I wouldn’t ever do it! With outside material, I think the key would be identifying with what the song says—or if I wish I would have written it. I love collaborating with Charlie and Robert, and feel I have learned something valuable from everyone I have ever worked with.
For me, the key to writing great songs is knowing first of all what isn’t going to work.” While Bulford’s childhood growing up in Central Florida was heavy on the gospel and Christian music—which he heard at home and sang in church—the singer recalls laying in bed at night listening to a local pop station and recalls falling in love with classic rock (Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin) after his father introduced him to it. Though he has long felt that his smooth voice is more suited for country than rock, the singer cites a wide range of classic and modern influences in a multitude of genres. While he still enjoys Garth Brooks, Randy Travis and Brad Paisley (both as a singer and guitarist), Bulford is equally passionate about Irish rock singer Damien Rice and contemporary singer/songwriters like Amos Lee. Because of his natural ability to write great songs, there was a time when Bulford contemplated simply being a Music City songwriter and letting others perform his material. But his fans in Florida and throughout the region, and the millions who saw him win the Colgate Showdown, won’t hear of it.
They want him onstage where they can enjoy his great showmanship and the powerful energy he has when he sings from the heart. “I used to listen to country music as therapy that got me through tough times,” he says. “That’s what’s great about this genre, that the writers and artists write and sing about life, and it can help listeners who are going through things. Knowing that I have written songs that can lift people’s spirits like this is the coolest thing in the world to me. If my words or my performance helps change someone’s life, I can’t ask for any greater gift.” Those are his spiritual goals, but what about his immediate career aspirations? “To perform on Conan O’Brien and record a duet with Carrie Underwood!” Now that would truly be Livin It Up! Read more on Last.fm.
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