John Heinrich: More to the Story

Taylor Harrington 6/7/2021 9:07pm EST

John Heinrich is a seasoned steel guitar and saxophone player, currently on tour with country legend Ronnie Milsap. Heinrich’s knowledge of the music industry and how to create a lifelong career are inspirational, and his genuine love of music and human connection is moving. Heinrich says,

“One of the biggest things I ever did was work on a session for Cowboy Jack Clement, who had produced some tracks and I was in the Memphis Horns with Wayne Jackson. We were building a horn section around the late Louis Armstrong.”

Also currently working on production for a rising Nashville star, Heinrich stays busy and we can’t wait to follow along on his journey.

John, how did you first get into the music world?

Wow. Well, I mean, I guess that happened back in the late 60s. I did take one year in college, but I didn’t really like it, so I thought, ‘Well if I’m going to do anything with my life, I need to pretty much decide right now what to do.’ I decided to go into music at that point, fanatically. In other words, when it’s at its worst, if you can sit back and say you still love it, then that is what you’re supposed to do. During the late 60s, I was a bass player getting ready to move into a melody instrument and I picked out the steel guitar. I didn’t know that was going to pigeonhole me into country music, but it did. So what the heck? I enjoyed playing the instrument anyway, and of course, saxophone came later on, but at that point or in the early 70s, late 60s, I decided to go for it. I said, “You’ve got to start right now and you can’t stop till the heart says we ‘we’re out of here.'”

Good for you! You have found so much success throughout this journey with different musicians, and I believe right now you’re with country-western legend Ronnie Milsap?

It’s unbelievable. I just sort of got into that by accident. Well, I actually got into it because I played saxophone and steel guitar, so it was a double thing for him and it’s worked out for me just great.

Where are you performing with Ronnie?

We just had a job in Texas, then we have got a month off, and then we should start back. It should be pretty much just about every other weekend, or every weekend some of the months. We’ll see what happens with all that. It doesn’t matter where Ronnie plays, he sells the place out. I think a lot of people of my generation certainly want to see him before he is gone, you know?

He’s an icon. What is it like being up on stage with another musician who is so talented? Live music brings a certain energy to people and you can just feel it in the room. What is it like to actually be on stage when that moment, that power, that energy is coming alive?

I love it. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s almost the same thing as stage fright but you don’t really have the fright, it’s gone. You’ve got the energy. You know what the show’s gonna be, and you feel confident. Another thing, when Ronnie hears something that he likes that I play, or somebody else plays in the band, it doesn’t matter if he’s right in the middle of a song singing he’ll go, “Yeah, John!”, or “Yeah Warren! Yeah, Jamie!”, and you think, ‘Wow, what’s wrong with this picture?’ This guy’s amazing and he pays well. It’s all around just a good thing for everybody.

He’s appreciating the magic of the musicians that are making his music come to life! That’s really great! If you could pick any artist, living or from the past, that you would be able to play on stage with, who would that person be?

The reason that I’m playing music is because of the Beatles, of course. I would have liked to at least sit in with them. They might have not used a steel guitar, but at least I could have played some sax. Further than that, up to date, maybe Bruno Mars or something like that. Although, I’m in the age group now where I would be stupid to think that I could go out and be with a bunch of young guys that just party. I’ve done all that. At my age, I mean, I want to have a good long life. I don’t want to cut it short by being stupid.

I totally appreciate that. Who are some of your favorite artists that you have worked with?

Oh, golly. Well, I played with Barry Gibb in a show in Hollywood, Florida. That was cool. I wish I had played more with him. This is another generation thing, but I played with Peter Noonan from Herman’s Hermits. He came to Nashville and the band I was in played behind him and that was fun. Of course, Ronnie is one, too. He’s in the winter of his career and he knows that, so he is just trying to do everything that he can.

What advice would you give to somebody that is wanting to get into music as a career?

Well, boy, that I could go into that for a long time. You really have to go through your trials with bands and stuff like that when you start out. You have to go through being with people that argue. Bad experiences up front help you in the back end of your career for sure. It’s different for everybody, but I like I said, I guess I just had a good knack for knowing what was going to work and what wasn’t. I’ve been with people that I just knew they weren’t at the same level that I was, as far as attitude goes, and that’s it. That’s a really important thing. Another important thing is not to say anything bad about anybody, even if they are bad, because they might be the person that takes you from point A to point B and then C. You’ve got to be pretty cool about stuff like that. You have to have a good base, definitely. What I mean by that is you have to have a place that you call home, whether you have a good relationship with your girlfriend or your wife or whatever, that counts for a lot. You also have to go where the music industry is if that’s what you want to do, and you’ve got to be able to spend your money and invest in yourself know how to work it, otherwise it’ll bite you. This may sound negative, but if you get out there and you think you’re riding high, and you just trust the music, it will bite you too. You’ve always got to be looking for the next thing. You have to be aware that a gig or job could end at any time. Music is just like that. It could end at any time, and you’ve got to have those contacts to where you can bridge the gap. You’ve got to have people skills. When talking to my saxophone repairman today, there was another saxophone player there. I gave him my name and I made sure that he had my card. That’s really important. If you’re of the attitude that, well, I feel weird about giving my card to people, you’re cutting your chances down. Invest in yourself and get yourself out there. You can’t wait for the mountain to come to you, you’ve got to go to the mountain. You’ve got to shake hands, you’ve got to be a people person. You tell the right joke to the right person and your career changes overnight. It could happen. I mean, we played Jimmy Fallon with Ronnie back in 2019. I met Quest Love and all those people. We didn’t really have time to talk, but I might have met people there that may remember me for later in life, and they may be the stepping stone. Yeah, that could happen.

That’s so impressive that you’re able to put yourself out there and make so many different connections to have such a long career in this business because not a lot of people can make that happen.

That’s right, and when you talk to a lot of those people, you’ll finally figure out that they’re all thinking, “I am the only one that can make myself get out there. I have control over my future.” If you think that somebody else has control over your future, boy, you better trust in them really well, or good luck, that’s all I gotta say.

Isn’t that the truth! You have to invest in yourself and believe in yourself, and yeah, just be a good human too. That always helps.

Yeah, you just can’t go around dissing people because that’ll come back and bite you too. I don’t want to mention any names, but there’s a singer out there right now that is doing really great. All I’m saying is, if I go around dissing somebody like that, especially in this town, that person that I’m dissing could be the next person I’m going to be working with.

A strong head on your shoulders and good communication with the people you’re surrounding yourself with, along with a good home base is so important to keep you grounded.

Yeah, and obviously not getting into drugs and drinking is important. I know a lot of people that do all that, but then they don’t know why they’re not getting the jobs.

John, where do you see yoursellf in the next five years?

Well, I’m in my own studio right now and I’m working with an artist and I’m producing some tracks for him. That’s what I would like to do right now is work with artists on their material. This kid that I’m working with, man, he’s a great singer. If he doesn’t do anything stupid, he’s really got a chance.

It would be an honor for anybody to stand in a studio with somebody that’s had a career as successful as yours. How do people find your studio and follow any artists that might be coming out of your place?

I bought a smaller studio here, but if I want to go cut the tracks that I cut with this artist that I’m working with, we go to a studio where you can have a live band. I’ve just got a small studio here, it’s a bit more like an office, but I can do mixing and I can track here, and then take it to another studio. I’ve got another guy that I use to mix & master. I also do a lot of tracks for other people. In other words, if you wrote a song, you might say to me, “Well, I want saxophone on this song.” So I’d say, “Send me an mp3 rough, and let me know any ideas you have”, and then I’ll play saxophone and send you back a WAV file that you can download into your program. I’m doing a lot of that. In fact, I did a lot of that throughout the last year and the pandemic because people had time to work on their music. I’m trying to get into the producing side of it, and once I get this guy going, if I think it’s going to go where it could go, I’ll feel confident about being able to walk into any major label, sitting down, having the guy look at me after he listens to it and says, “Oh, that’s a bunch of crap” and I’ll say “Okay” and I’ll move on to the next place, because I know I’ve got something.

I just got chills and I can’t wait to find out who this artist is that you’ve been working with! Is there a time frame for when we might know more?

Well, I’m hoping we’ll have things together by autumn. Around that time of the year, we should have everything. It could happen earlier, but I don’t want to rush it. I know I’m going to have him come in tomorrow to do some acoustic tracks. He’s got a schedule here in Nashville, it’s just ridiculous. He said he’s gonna have to take off time to be able to do vocals, but he just belts it out and doesn’t stop. We’re talking for four hours and doesn’t stop.

The mystery is alive now, and I’ll be keeping an eye out to figure out who this is! I’m so grateful that you were able to share a little bit of your story and journey with me today, and I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing you and Ronnie Milsap play here in Ohio! How can people find you to follow your music?

You can go on my website,, and I am all over the web. It’s got all the tour dates on it.

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