Tom Kellar
Special to The Union

Nevada County native living musical dream in Nashville

I’ll be the first to admit that though there are certain country music artists I get passionate about, as a rule it’s not my first choice for aural pleasure.

So it was with natural skepticism that I agreed to listen to a new album of songs from home-grown talent Jonny Houlihan.

Surprise, surprise. I was hooked after a couple sessions with Houlihan’s CD called “New Old Town.”

My natural tendency is to discount “local,” but Houlihan’s latest effort is way too good for that. He produced the album, wrote or co-wrote every song on the disc, played a variety of instruments and sang all the leads. The production is excellent, and vocally, Houlihan nails every song.

The guy can really sing. I’m convinced there are at least a handful of songs on “New Old Town” radio-ready with the potential to become new-country hits if heard by a national audience.

Currently, Houlihan is living in Nashville but was raised in Nevada County. His family’s home was located near Scotts Flat Lake.

He began learning the guitar at 5 years old and played throughout high school but says that his main passion growing up was sports, specifically tennis. His father was Nevada Union’s Athletic Director and head football coach for most of his childhood.

“Growing up, my brother and I were two of the top tennis players in Northern California for a long time,” Houlihan said. “My whole life was pretty much playing guitar or playing tennis. It was good because it kept us out of trouble.”

According to Houlihan, Nevada City 20 years ago wasn’t the most happening place for a teenager to be. He remembers lots of weekends when he and friends would hop in their trucks and find a hill where they could build a bonfire and hang out. In those days, he was known as the guy who always brought along his guitar.

“Once I learned the guitar, it became a good way of expressing myself,” Houlihan said. “Fall in love a couple of times when you’re 14 years old, have your heart broken when you’re 16, and you know you’re going to be alright because you can write about it.”

Houlihan’s family still resides in Nevada City and Jonny makes the trip back to see them regularly. He says that it was chiefly his father who exposed him to lots of music, including pop icons like the Beatles, Cat Stevens and John Denver.

“Music kind of came naturally, though no one in my family is a musician,” Houlihan said. “They’re all teachers and coaches.”

Having figured out what he wanted to do with his life, Houlihan officially made the move to Nashville, country music’s epicenter, in January of 2000.

“I was living in Grass Valley, and I knew that I would be miserable if I didn’t try it,” Houlihan said. “I sold everything, made about $3,000, packed my guitars in my car and drove off.”

The singer-songwriter found it relatively easy to integrate himself into Nashville’s music scene and has never looked back. For more than a decade, Houlihan has been perfecting the craft of songwriting and recording, both on the road and in his own recording studio.

“The town (Nashville) has been really wonderful to me, but it’s a hard business,” Houlihan said. “I feel blessed and have accepted that music is what I do.”

He says that though Nashville is where he lives, it will never be home.

“I still consider Grass Valley and Nevada City my home,” Houlihan said. “If you hear the record, the song ‘New Old Town’ is written about Nevada City.”

The album’s title track has a monster chorus and could well be the one song that allows Houlihan to break through nationally.

“My publishing company will start promoting ‘New Old Town’ to radio in January after the holidays,” Houlihan said. “We’re thinking that 2013 will be the year when ‘New Old Town’ hopefully explodes. Everyone kind of agrees that it’s the home run song. I wrote it maybe five years ago and have probably played it 10,000 times, and it still can give me chills.”

Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of “New Old Town” will find it for sale locally at the Record Connection in Grass Valley. A portion of the proceeds from the CD will go to three local charities: Women of Worth, The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nevada County.

For information regarding the career of Jonny Houlihan, visit JonnyHoulihanmusic.com.

Tom Kellar is a freelance writer who lives in Grass Valley. Contact him at thomaskellar@hotmail.com.


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The Union Updated Dec 7, 2012 04:24PM Published Dec 13, 2012 08:22AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.