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John Pops Dennie’s New Album “I’ve Got Something To Say” Releases September 18th

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Fort Worth, Texas native John Pops Dennie is a songwriter who is living up to the musical reputation of his hometown and the company he keeps. Dennie is a deeply philosophical songwriter who places a high value on connecting with people through his music. He is a social activist who believes in reaching others through common experiences despite differences of opinion. Moreover, he has an innate ability to pack a lyrical punch as plotlines develop and resolve within the space of a four-minute song.

Fort Worth, Texas. What song represents what your hometown is best known for?

Well, my hometown is famous for many things, not the least of which is its musical heritage. However, Fort Worth is best known as Cowtown. It was the last stop on the Chisholm Trail before cattle drives would face Indian territory as they pushed northward. When you understand that over a period of about twenty years, literally millions of cows were driven through the center of Fort Worth on their way to market and were even bedded down on residential streets, then you understand how the nickname stuck. Around the beginning of the 20th century my grandad and a few of my uncles were among the carpenters that built the stockyards that helped Fort Worth stake a claim in the meat packing industry. So, you might expect that my favorite song about Fort Worth is the Bob Wills classic, “Big Ball’s In Cowtown”. That song and that Bob Wills sound are quintessential Fort Worth.

As a gifted storyteller, what’s your favorite story to share?

Hmmmm. That question is best answered by my wife Mary Beth. Why? Because she’s heard all my stories, and she often reminds me of that fact. She’s a master of sarcasm. So, when I tell her a story she has heard before, she just bats her eyes at me and says, “I love that story.” Kidding aside, I sing most of my stories. A good example is in the song “Creole Lady”. That story still gives me chills. I’m kind of weird in that my imagination is driven by visual cues that are a constant parade in my mind. I think and create in both still and moving pictures. “Creole Lady” is about the lynching of a woman during 1930s America. Try getting that picture of your head.

Your bio states, “…he is a social activist who believes in reaching others through common experiences despite differences of opinion”. The pandemic has impacted every walk of life. What effect have you seen in music creation and consumption?

Consumption: Almost no one is attending live performances during the pandemic. That means the lion’s share of most musicians’ income has disappeared. We’ve all been trying to make the jump to streaming performances and watch parties, but I don’t know anyone who can say digital performances are paying their mortgages. As for the consumption of recorded music, the L.A. Times reported in July how even streaming revenue was down due to the pandemic, and we all know CD sales are nearly non-existent. I think there’s a good chance we’re going to see a shakeout in the industry that will affect both artists and consumers. Artists who have the financial means to stay in the game will be around in 2022 when things are hopefully back to normal. (Yes, I said 2022.) But there will be a lot of struggling musicians between now and then who are going to find themselves on different career paths, and if you ask me, that’s not good. It’s not good because the diversity of American music will suffer, and music consumers will have fewer choices. Not good, but most likely necessary. People gotta eat.

Creation: A lot of people have a had a lot of time on their hands these last six months, and the music business is seeing the fruit of that phenomenon as more and more artists are completing projects. I’ve personally been spending much of my time these past six month working on my next record. I’ve completed recording on one song and I have around thirty more that are in various stages of completion in the writing, arranging and production process. I just hope that when it comes time to release the next one, I’ll be able to get out on the road and share it with live audiences. I miss it so much.

…others have described many of the songs as well within the realm of protest music”. Protest music spans American generations from “Yankee Doodle” (which was actually written by British soldiers to make fun of the Americans who started singing it to flip it back) to Woody Guthrie’s folk songs and on to Beyonce’s “Formation”. In your mind, what are the top five most powerful protest songs of all-time?

Top 5 Protest Songs

I believe protest music is the mother’s milk of social justice and ultimately American democracy. To my mind that makes these songs too important to rank like a list of Top-40 dance tunes. That would be a bit like ranking the importance of the changes they helped bring about and that’s way above my pay grade. However, if I were to sit down right now and make a long playlist of protest music, these five songs would definitely be on that playlist. They are in no particular order.

Freedom Highway” — written by Roebuck “Pops” Staples and performed by The Staples Singers. Mavis Staples is old enough to be my mother, but I have had a tremendous crush on that woman for most of my life. Few songs stir my soul like this one does.

“Strange Fruit “— written by Abel Meeropol. My favorite performance is Nina Simone’s. This song breaks my heart for so many reasons, not the least of which is how deeply this country remains divided over issues of race.

Ohio”— written by Neil Young, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. This song is nothing short of anthemic. In fact, I don’t think I would be going out on a limb if I claimed that “Ohio” is indeed THE anthem for the antiwar movement of the 1970s. I sometimes cover it in my shows.

“Eve of Destruction” — written by Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan. Performed by Barry McGuire. Barry McGuire was a huge influence on me as an early teenager. I got to hang out with him some when I was a kid. (He soundly whooped me in chess a couple of times.) Barry is a great big, passionate and loving soul whose larger-than-life presence taught me how important it is to sing truth and to sing it truthfully . . . even if your voice is shaking. “Eve of Destruction” was banned from the radio shortly after it became a hit … precisely for doing what it was supposed to do … telling the truth.

Glory” — written and performed by John Legend and Common. Holy schnikey’s! I first heard this song in 2014 while watching the movie Selma. This is a good, good song. Reminds me of growing up in church, and it reinvigorates a belief in my heart that one day America will have victory over racism. It’s another song that causes the hair on my arms to stand on end and my eyes to well up with tears.

Well, there are the five. So many more though. Wouldn’t it be great if none of us ever had a reason to write another protest song?

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What message do you hope listeners take away from the new album, I’ve Got Something to Say?

Here’s the take away from the album. Choices have consequences. Good choices. Bad choices. Choices of indifference that result in complacency. Every choice that every human being makes can drastically alter the trajectory of the lives of countless other people. Americans need to learn this lesson, or we’re not going to make it. When I think about it, just about every song on this album, not just the protest songs mind you, but every song on the record provides a thesis on what it means to reap what you sow. It is my sincere hope that people who hear this music will grasp this concept and own it. I don’t want to sound like I’m preaching, but I have to say I want the world, and especially Americans, to begin making choices that will allow them to reap peace and justice for themselves and their neighbors for the rest of their lives.

As the presidential election nears, how do you see your song “Here We Are” influencing voters to wisely cast their ballots?

I’m hoping “Here We Are” will give people a kick in the pants that will cause them to think more deeply and carefully about their political choices. I especially hope independents, fence-sitters and right-leaning people with conscience, that is to say Christians, will look objectively at what our country has become. We’re in deep, deep trouble and I’m heartsick from watching people who claim to be followers of Christ trade adherence to the majority of Christ’s teachings for a seat at the cannibal’s table. It’s time for objective self-reflection with an understanding that voting in 2020 has a very real and urgent moral imperative. This election is critical to uniting Americans and healing our divides. Voting this year can’t be business as usual.

In what ways do you see music affecting the current state of the world?

Art always seems to need a series of massively important events to break through the clutter and cause people to see reality more clearly. I can’t remember seeing that happening significantly since September 11, 2001. Then comes 2020. Between the pandemic, black lives matter, political unrest, and uncertain economic times, we’re seeing a number of events converge that are giving legs to art. But here’s the deal. How the art of music affects the world begins with songwriters. Songwriters have been gifted with a unique talent that can bring people together around topics that will change the world, and we have a choice. We can write ridiculous hick-hop tropes about a girl with a body like a backroad, or we can write about things that move listeners to become better people. Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs to hear songs about common experiences. That’s how we connect with our audiences. But if that’s all your songwriting is ever about, do the world a favor and step away from the Pabst.

Across the genres, which current artists have best used their platform to spread encouraging words during the pandemic?

Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but I don’t think enough artists have been using their platforms specifically for the encouragement of people during the pandemic. On the other hand, Willie Nelson is one artist who stands out as having used his music for good during this time. He pulled together a virtual Farm Aid and raised over half a million dollars for farmers affected by the pandemic. I especially love the video performance of Willie and his sons Lukas and Micah singing the song “Turn Off the News and Build a Garden”. I know lots of folks who did just that.

Homemade salsa, dill pickles and plum preserves. What’s the best advice you can share for those new to gardening and canning?

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If you’re new to gardening, start with something easy to grow. Pretty much any kind of squash will do. Also, once you’ve prepared your soil bed, make sure to have a soil sample analyzed by your local agricultural office. That will help you decide how to best augment the soil for success. Many failed gardens can be traced back to soil that wasn’t adjusted appropriately to support fruit bearing plants. Find a master gardener in your community and ask questions. Master gardeners are usually very kind people and they love to give advice. Also, don’t stress over your garden if it’s not working out so well. Learn from the experience and make the next season’s garden better. In other words, gardening can be a lifelong pursuit. Enjoy it. Above all, build your garden with someone. Share the experience. Pick a neighbor, a friend or a family member and go get your hands dirty. Fill that garden full of love and have fun with it. As for canning, if you love to eat it . . . can it. But make sure you learn how to handle food safely and especially how to safely can. Food borne pathogens are no joke.

Documenting the parsley caterpillar’s metamorphosis. Spending quality time together, families are going ‘retro’ — for example, tie-dying t-shirts — as they stay at home. As a fellow grandparent, what kinds of things have you shared with your grandson Carter?

Update on the caterpillar. He did emerge from the chrysalis and I have yet to post the video online. I’ll be doing that soon. Boy he was beautiful.

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We learned early on that Carter is crazy about anything musical. Now, whenever he comes over I break out the guitar and sing for him while he dances. Sometimes, I take my electric piano out of the studio and put in the living room where he can perform for his grandmother and me. And let me tell you, he loves an audience. (Then again, doesn’t everyone? I know I do.)

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