Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Jesse Alan Horn epitomizes a working musician. Some weekends, he plays five shows at venues across the larger Oklahoma City area, and on Monday, he wakes up and starts the process of filling his month all over again.
“I’ll make a pot of coffee and send out like 100 emails. And then if you get hit back up of the 100 for ten shows, that’s your month. You’re good. It’s like a work thing. So, it was just putting in that effort and always delivering on your product,” Horn said.
On a warm and rainy Sunday in August, the Vieux family descendant played to a small afternoon crowd at the Sunset Patio Bar in OKC’s Midtown district. Some regulars strolled in who try to see him every weekend, and others bobbed around to covers of Eric Clapton, Jason Boland and more as they sipped drinks with friends. Watching Horn play, it becomes apparent he is most comfortable behind a microphone.
“There’s like an energy. It’s weird. An atmosphere that you can create that gives everybody a good, positive vibe, you know? And working with other musicians that feel that with you, it’s moving. Adrenaline. It’s just really powerful. And I don’t know; I’m kind of addicted to it,” he said and laughed.
Horn began learning how to play guitar at age 13 from his grandfather while growing up in Colorado. He also taught Horn how to sing and write songs, particularly Southern gospel pieces they could lead at church.
“My grandpa had Parkinson’s whenever we were little, and he was the choir teacher at a church, and he couldn’t play the guitar anymore. So, I was like, ‘Well, I’ll learn how to play guitar for you,’” Horn said.
“He showed me what I needed. We used to play old gospel songs and Kingston Trio and folk music, and it was fun. I still play it. … Some of the tightest and best harmonies are from those old Americana folk bands.”
Audiences hear other influences while he plays around Oklahoma City, with his setlists drawing from 70s hits and folk music, Tom Petty, John Mayer, pop country and more.
Horn started performing around Oklahoma City in 2010. He remembers his first show with pianist Casey Cross at a bar and restaurant in the Bricktown entertainment district.
“We played for $25 and a basket of fried chicken. That was our first gig, and we thought, ‘We did it!’ You know? And we were happy. We were going to college. That’s how we linked up. And we did that for like two years. And then I just kind of started branching out,” he said.
After leaving Oklahoma to play on cruise ships for a few years, Horn returned and now rotates through a steady stream of venues that welcome him. He jokes with the audience and takes requests, daring them to name a song out of his reach. The tablet in front of him as he sings and plays guitar holds thousands of songs from which he builds a setlist.
“It’s just kind of like, what does the venue want from me, and what does my audience ask of me? We have two kinds of artists in this world. We have artists that play for attention, and then we have artists that play with intention. So, you can be profitable off of either plan, but the thing is, you want to create a product for whatever kind of artistry you want to sell,” Horn said, noting he focuses on intention.
Horn’s most recent endeavor includes recording and releasing his first album, BOLO, or Be on the Look Out. While most of his performances focus on covers, this new album gives fans an in-depth view of Horn’s worldviews and talents as a storyteller.
“I think artists are observers, and whether you are a painter or somebody who writes music or does poetry, you have to sit back, and you have to be able to see what’s going on, on the inside and be able to paint what you see. And the fact that like people can relate to it and use that as a canvas, I think that’s pretty cool. That’s art to me,” Horn said.
BOLO is a concept album that focuses on a main character who has had a hard life, both within himself and others, and his attempt to overcome obstacles and find success through positivity. Horn created “a lot of pits and a lot of valleys” throughout the record to show his character’s journey.
“Work equals force multiplied by distance. I love saying that. How hard are you willing to do it? And how long are you willing to go for? That’s work,” he said.
Horn believes in four traits for success — character, competence, consistency and empathy. Much of the character’s “work” includes making himself a better person and finding a newfound strength in understanding how others feel.
“He still has character. He still shows up to the gig, too. So, he’s consistent, and he’s competent. He doesn’t mess up. He’s always reliable. But he’s so burnt that he has no empathy, and he’s just kind of become this cold individual. And in the story are these guardians that come down, and they help him identify what empathy is,” Horn said.
He plans on releasing a new single every two or three months, and the first one, Nobody, came out in August 2022. Horn describes it as “epic, very moving and powerful.” The sound is layered and multifaceted, influenced by Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell II and composer Jim Steinman.
“(Meatloaf) had like three guitars, two drummers, a bass player, a female vocalist. … A choir, a symphony. And I thought that was powerful. And I wanted something for the first song, straight out the gate; I wanted power,” Horn said.
He believes in self-created genres unique to each performer. Horn also shows the influence of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles and AC/DC in upcoming singles.
Follow the release of BOLO and hear Jesse Alan Horn’s single Nobody on all streaming services. Find more information on his career and upcoming shows at jessealan.com.