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Local music legend Bruce John performs at University Hour

Published on November 06, 2023

Local music legend Bruce John performs at University Hour

Bruce John and Peggy Harvey
Bruce John (right) Peggy Harvey give a guest performance at Eastern during University Hour on Nov. 1.

Bruce John has lived in the Eagleville section of Mansfield, CT, for more than 70 years, building both a career and community through his love of performing and music. Earning the nickname “The Human Jukebox,” he draws inspiration from the music that he heard in the Eastern Connecticut area, bringing the Eastern Connecticut community together through a love of music.

In a performance at a recent University Hour at Eastern Connecticut State University, John reminisced about listening to music on the jukebox in his father’s restaurant growing up and going to concerts with his family. In the audience were friends, Eastern alumni, who saw his use of music as an important part of the University’s history. His musical journey began in Willimantic in 1958, when he went to the armory to listen to Danny and the Juniors onstage.

“My eyes got big,” he said, “and my ears got even bigger.”

John recalled getting his first album “that was (his) and not (his) brother’s and sister’s.” It was none other than ‘The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan’ in 1963. He said his favorite of the songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” drew attention to various social issues at the time and made him much more aware of the world around him.

“It opened my eyes, and I’ll sing it forever if I have to,” said John.

While attending E.O. Smith High School, John traveled to speak at the Human Rights Board, where he and a fellow student pushed for Spanish interpreters to help at local hospitals. He then went on to start the Young Citizens of Equal Rights Board at the school. In this organization, he rallied support for various progressive movements, including raising $82 for Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights campaign.

Bruce JohnMusic continued to influence his life and personal goals. On Oct. 22, 1971, he –- along with his brothers, Gary and Kerry, and their friends David and Mark Foster –- bought an old factory, transforming it into the Shaboo Inn. John recalled his experience dropping out of school to pursue his passion for music and performing.

“It was the biggest thing in the whole world,” John said. “It was bigger than school. It was bigger than me.”

The Shaboo Inn welcomed people of all kinds to come and listen to music, becoming one of the most popular music venues in the state. Musicians such as Aerosmith, Taj Mahal, James Montgomery and more made their way to the stage, introducing Connecticut residents to a plethora of genres. John spoke of the inn as “another educational institution,” pointing out that he and the four other founders “brought the blues to Eastern Connecticut.”

He said of Shaboo, “It was nirvana; it was heaven. It was everything.”

The Shaboo Inn burned down on Aug. 13, 1982, sending John and his colleagues to find a new song.

In the time since then, John has done an astonishing amount of community fundraising, bringing his guitar and his musical spirit with him. He and the connections made at Shaboo have raised more than $255,000 for the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic. With his band, The Bandaleros, he has paid the $12,000 rent for the Willimantic No Freeze shelter for nearly 17 years. Additionally, he donates his time and talents to various charities including the American Cancer Society, the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry and the Windham Aids Program.

Currently, John and his band, the Singasaurus from the Kidsville Kuckoo Revue, are popular among children and their families.

“I love every song I sing,” John said. “That’s why I do everything else. I’ve been so fortunate, so blessed.”

He closed his performance at Eastern with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Turning the microphone off, he and his accompanist, Peggy Harvey, encouraged the audience to join them in song, to share their love for music and the world.

John’s schedule of upcoming performances can be found on his website.

Written by Marcus Grant