Josh Sanders pursues music dream

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 3, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
Josh Sanders can’t really talk about competing in the Hollywood Round American Idol, so friends and fans of the 23-year-old Kannapolis musician will just have to wait until the show airs to see how he did. (The first of three Hollywood Round American Idol shows airs Feb. 9.)
Sanders — a bluesy Southern-style rocker — got a coveted golden ticket after acing his Idol audition in Savannah. That put him in a pool of 300 performers invited to go to Hollywood for a grueling week of competition.
Sanders left a family vacation at Myrtle Beach at 2 a.m. and barely made it to the audition in time.
“I jumped out (of my car), shook the sleep out of my eyes and got in line,” he said.
He wasn’t really nervous for his audition, he says. He’s had plenty of experience on stage, although he’s sometimes in the background. He’s performed as a bass player and back-up singer with a band on the Lynyrd Skynyrd Simple Man Cruise and the Rock Legends Cruise, playing with the likes of ZZ Top, George Thorogood and Blackfoot.
When he performs locally, though, he’s often a solo act — as he was that day in Savannah singing and playing in front of celebrity judges Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.
“I felt pretty confident,” he says. “I felt I belonged there.”
He sang “Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers.
Sanders says the panel liked it — and it’s also easy to imagine they liked his down-home personality and easygoing manner. He’s a simple kind of man, so to speak.
Steven Tyler wanted to hear something else, so Sanders belted out “Give Me Shelter” by the Rolling Stones.
Jackson called him a “good ole boy” and advised Sanders to challenge himself more melodically. Randy also advised him to try to “dial into being a solo artist” instead of a front man for a band.
Sanders said he connected the most with Tyler. During the audition, the two realized that their birthdays were one day short of being the same — but 40 years apart.
After all the discussion and advice, Sanders got three “yes” votes, earning him a Hollywood slot.
Hollywood week was grueling and stressful, Sanders says — and also very rewarding.
The path to ‘Idol’
Sanders’ musical roots are about as southern as they come. His father, Darren Sanders, now a pastor at Northwest Baptist Church in Concord, directed a church choir. His parents and some other family members were also part of a gospel group that went on the road when Josh was about 7 or 8 years old.
“I got to know my uncle’s drum kit pretty well,” Sanders recalls.
In one of his American Idol interviews, Josh said that his first public performance was when he was 8 years old, singing in church to an audience of about 400 people.
When he was 12, Sanders asked for a go-kart for Christmas.
Instead, he got a bass guitar and an amp. His father explained that he needed Josh to learn the bass in the next few weeks so that he could play for an upcoming cantata, since the previous bass player had quit.
So Josh did.
Around the age of 15 he picked up the acoustic guitar and within six months was outplaying his father, he says.
He was a student at A.L. Brown at the time, and a member of the marching band. He wasn’t much into following the rules back then, he says. He didn’t read music, and he still doesn’t. He can listen carefully to a song and be able to play it.
“I play by heart, by soul, by feel,” he says.
He sees himself as somewhere on the rock/blues/grunge spectrum and describes himself as “homegrown” and “rough around the edges” — which aren’t negatives in his book, since they speak to soulfulness and sincerity.
The soulfulness definitely came through when Sanders recently performed a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe,” during a visit to the Post.
“Play me a song, Curtis Lowe, Curtis Lowe.
I wish that you was here so everyone would know….”
His voice is rich and resonant, and the guitar playing is clean and assured. “Rough around the edges” does not come to mind.
Sanders began to play in some coffee shops and met a guy named Evan Bloom, who recognized his talent.
Bloom introduced him to his 80s cover band Smokin’, for which he played bass for several years, gaining experience and confidence.
And while he may have felt bad about not getting the go-kart, he realizes now that getting that bass laid the groundwork for a lot of his musical career.
At some point, Sanders says, he “hit a crossroads.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to be the “backdrop of a band” anymore, so he began to develop a solo presence.
Sanders has eclectic musical tastes himself. He mentions Hootie and the Blowfish, the Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer as artists he likes.
But his musical life changed when his neighbor asked him if he was familiar with Alice in Chains.
“Is she hot?” Sanders remembers asking.
As Sanders became familiar with the band — not the woman — he realized he loved their music.
“All in” is how Sanders describes his commitment to his music career these days.
“There is no plan B,” admits Sanders, who works part-time in a music store. Down the road, he hopes to be playing in bigger venues, with bigger audiences.
His father, he admits, has offered him a position as choir director at his church, but that’s not where his heart is leading him these days
He wants to build a following — the way old-school bands used to inspire loyalty among their fans.
“My goal is to win people over, one fan at a time,” he says, “and keep them loyal to me. Possibly even create a movement.”
He realizes that, in music and in life, “timing is everything.”
And right now, while he’s got a spotlight, he intends to make the most of it.
In the works now are some dates with Chairmen of the Board, a popular beach music band. He’ll play during their breaks, as well as take the stage with the band for a few songs.
If you want to catch Sanders locally, he’ll be at Amici’s in Concord Feb. 9; on Feb. 28 he’ll be at the Sports Page in Mooresville.
For more about Sanders and upcoming performances, go to