Over the years Jon Shain has developed and refined his own contemporary version of the Piedmont Blues, a bouncy, energetic style that developed in Shain’s adopted hometown of Durham, NC and elsewhere around the region.
On Ordinary Cats, his eighth solo album, Shain doesn’t abandon that sensibility completely, but he does plug it in and crank it up. “I knew I would be playing some electric guitar on this record,” he says. “I haven’t put a lot of electric guitar on my albums. I’ve played it on other people’s albums more than my own.” The result is a modern revisiting of the roots-rock (what some now call Americana) sound associated with Stephen Stills and Neil Young, at times. But there is still a generous amount of fingerpicked acoustic guitar from Shain, a former International Blues Challenge finalist in the solo/duo category.
Shain’s longtime musical collaborator, FJ Ventre, co-produced and engineered Ordinary Cats, as well as playing bass and providing backing vocals. Other major contributors to the album include Chris Stamey of the dB’s, who mixed the album, and Greg Humphreys on harmony vocals, currently making a name for himself as a solo artist after years fronting the NC bands Hobex and Dillon Fence. Pete Connolly, of the NC indie band Birds and Arrows, contributed drums to several tracks as well.
Jon grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a Merrimack River mill-town that had already seen its better days by the time he was a child in the 1970s. His family’s business was a small textile dyeing company, and he worked in the factory during the summers throughout his teens. At the same time, Shain began to discover his love of American roots music and songwriting, specifically drawn to the narratives about regular people and themes of social justice.
Shain headed south to North Carolina in 1986, to study American History at Duke University and to continue his musical journey, as well. In addition to studying with jazz professor Paul Jeffrey, he also had the good fortune to learn the piedmont blues tradition firsthand by playing in Big Boy Henry’s backing band. It was at this time that Shain also got to meet and play with John Dee Holeman and a number of the great older NC blues players. Shain's classes in school were heavily concentrated in southern history, English, and world religions. That mixture of the academic environment and the real-world blues music is what has most informed his musical direction.
Shain cut his touring teeth from 1989-1998 founding the Chapel Hill, NC folk-rock group, Flyin' Mice and their spin-off group, WAKE. The band performed with acts such as David Grisman, Tony Rice Unit, Hot Tuna, and the Dixie Dregs, released four CDs, and played clubs, schools, and festivals up and down the East Coast, building a legion of fans.
After his band's breakup, Shain went solo, returning to his roots in the folk and blues circuit. He has released six studio albums, working with studio luminaries such as Dave Mattacks, Tom Dube, and Chris Stamey, along the way. In addition to festival slots and headlining club dates, the last few years has seen Shain playing esteemed listening rooms such as The Living Room and Caffe Lena and opening sold out theatre shows for John Hiatt, Keb’ Mo’, Little Feat, and others. When Shain is not recording or performing, he stays busy giving private instruction in Piedmont blues fingerstyle guitar, and teaching group workshops in songwriting and blues guitar.