John Pemberton has been playing music since the tender age of 5 and performing since age 10, when he and his parents began playing at venues throughout the Fresno area as a family band.
A skilled guitarist and singer, Pemberton branched out on his own, getting his start as a country and gospel musician at local joints like the Red Caboose Café. Then at 19, he married LeAnn and her vocals were added to the mix. The two took off on an adventure, touring the countryside and recording their first album in the country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee, before deciding to relocate to the middle of America in a small town in Oklahoma.
For 25 years, Pemberton, who now speaks with a soft Southern drawl, called Oklahoma home as he settled down, raised a family, and served as a chaplain and police chief. But, after returning to his true love of music full time, Pemberton said he soon realized it was time to move back to California’s Central Valley.
“I was really missing music and wanted to get back into it full time so I started booking shows in Oklahoma,” Pemberton said. “I came out here for vacation and ended up getting some unexpected shows. I really wasn’t planning on booking any here but a lot of folks asked me to come and play and for a while I was going back and forth, two weeks here and two weeks in Oklahoma.”
While Pemberton had a lot of support in Oklahoma—one of his biggest supporters none other than fellow musician Chris Cagle’s (“Chicks Dig It”) grandma—he said the Central Valley fanbase, particularly in Clovis, just erupted, with more fans coming out each show.
“I would say that especially Clovis, it reminds me a lot of places back in Oklahoma because there is a country feel to it,” Pemberton said. “When you come to Clovis, you walk down the street and hear music on the intercom system and it’s a lot like Texas or Oklahoma, yet you can have anything you want here in the bigger city and you can be at the ocean in two hours or the mountains in an hour. The convenience of it is really nice. And the fan base is excellent. It’s a country music area here and most people don’t realize it. When Garth Brooks was here, he told all his friends to book shows in Fresno because there are big fans of country music out here.”
Pemberton describes his style as traditional country. He performs songs popularized by artists like George Strait, Merle Haggard and Alan Jackson, and says he occasionally throws in a Blake Shelton or Luke Bryan cover.
Pemberton also writes original songs, though during his shows he just sneaks in one or two. Two of his originals have made it to No. 1 on CCR (Clays Country Radio) International Radio—“The Family” and “That Was Then.” His biggest No. 1 hit, however, was a song called “An Old Friend Of Mine,” originally intended to be recorded by Joe Nichols. In addition to three No. 1 songs on CCR, Pemberton was also voted Male Artist of the Year in 2014 by CCR listeners.
Pemberton currently has three country albums and two gospel albums, which he mostly sells at his live shows. His songs are also available on iTunes.
Unlike some new country musicians, Pemberton said he likes to keep his shows PG and family friendly, which he believes has added to his popularity.
“When people come out to the shows they can expect a family friendly environment and bring their kids,” Pemberton said. “I think that is missing a lot in country music because in newer music a lot of the things they sing about are getting in the truck and getting drunk. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a few songs I do that might mention that like a George Strait song, but I really stay away from those types of songs for the most part.”
Pemberton added that he feels it’s his mission to provide family friendly entertainment to help bring families together.
“There are so many things today that are driving families apart,” Pemberton said. “You go somewhere and the kids are on their smartphones, or mom and dad go out to eat and the kids stay home so they are missing that family time. I want to have an environment where everybody can come and be a part of it. That’s my heart.”
Pemberton also has a heart for veterans.
“I do a tribute to the veterans every show,” he said. “I will have all the veterans come to the middle of the dance floor and have them say whether they were Army or Navy and I have everybody else make a circle around them and I do a song called “American Trilogy,” an old Elvis song. Toward the middle of the song I have everyone come in close and lay their hands on the shoulders of the veterans to let them know how much we appreciate them. It’s a really moving part of the show.”
Pemberton performs four or five nights a week. He performs Sunday nights at the Old Town Clovis DiCicco’s Lounge and performs monthly at On The Edge café. He also does regular performances at Yosemite Falls Café, High Sierra Grill House, and the San Joaquin Wine Company in Madera. He also performs at farmers markets and other events, like the Clovis Rodeo and Big Hat Days. Local line dancers often come to his shows, adding to the entertainment.
Moving forward, Pemberton hopes to appear on NBC’s “The Voice” as well as expand his audience throughout the state of California.