From Medical Science to Musical Transcendence

After beginning piano lessons at the age of five, John Blangero embarked on a musical journey that, on the face of it, seems an extremely unlikely path to a place in the “Southern rock and soul” niche he currently inhabits, by way of his alter-ego project, Sun King Rising. By age 10, he had a firm grasp of classical and gospel music. He joined his first rock band at 14, and was soon writing and performing his own music. After paying his dues playing in a few local bands, he experienced a level of regional success in the early 1970s with his own band, Harlequin, a theatrical progressive rock outfit.

John’s musical path then took an extended detour into the realm of medical science, as he completed a Ph.D and became a biomedical research scientist. This led to a 20-year. hiatus from actively making music, as his career brought him ultimately to Texas.

His need to deal with his high-pressure job and his relocation to the deep South (from his origin point of the Pittsburgh, PA, area) ultimately combined to bring about the unexpected result of Sun King Rising. “You kind of get this feeling where something’s missing,” John recalls. After beginning to play and write on piano again, it had a profound effect on his state of mind. “You can’t do anything else when you’re playing music, so it’s a great to remove all the pressures of the day and just clear your mind…Music became my source of peace.”

Beyond the personal mental benefits of reigniting his musical passion, John’s return to music-making resulted in the creation of many new songs, heavily influenced by the southern rock and Texas soul of his home ground. Released in October 2020, John’s first solo album, Delta Tales, with 10 originals and one cover, features more “organic rock” music like that of Joe Cocker, Leon Russell and many others. John says, “I titled the album Delta Tales because it focuses on southern themes and because I live in the Texas delta of the Rio Grande Valley…I wouldn’t call it a ‘concept album’ but I always like to say it’s ‘thematically coherent.’ It’s really tales from a southern perspective.”

Listeners will discover vignettes of love found and lost, family, faith, historical burden, betrayal, sin, and redemption set in a southern cultural landscape, that also resonate with universal themes. John’s unique position as a scientist and musician led to an interesting juxtaposition. While most other musicians have used the enforced down time of pandemic restrictions and quarantines to create, record and/or promote their music, connect with fans online, or otherwise work to pay the bills, John’s profession meant that he was actively working on defeating the virus. He and his colleagues at the University of Texas Rio Grande have worked tirelessly on the genetics of human response to COVID-19 infection.

Check out the Sun King Rising website here. Listen to the full interview here.