Husband-and-wife guitarists Jon and Juli Finn reveal how a shared passion for music brought them together and continues to inspire them each and every day.
SOUTH SHORE HOME, LIFE & STYLE – Jon and Juli Finn are accomplished guitarists, singer/songwriters and recording artists who have graced the stages of prestigious concert venues around the world, such as Tanglewood, Carnegie Hall, Sky Church (Seattle, WA) and Roseland Theater (Portland, OR). We chatted with the Whitman couple to hear highlights from their impressive musical careers (from jamming on stage with Aerosmith to playing in the orchestra pit on Broadway), find out where they’re playing these days, and learn how they first fell in love with music—and each other.
When did you first start playing guitar?
Jon: I began playing when I was 6 years old. I watched a TV commercial advertising the “Tiger Guitar” – a plastic guitar paired with a small amplifier. The commercial featured a kid my age jamming in his backyard in front of all of his “adoring fans.” The following Christmas, I got a real guitar, much to my dismay. Soon after, I began taking guitar lessons and never looked back. It’s still funny to me that much of my adult life and career is based on a decision I made when I was just 6 years old.
Juli: I fell in love with the guitar the first time I picked one up at 15 years old. I sat with it in my lap for a few minutes to try and understand how it worked and then learned a variation of “Canarios” (Improvisation on the Theme of Gasper Sanz). I never looked back.
Who were your musical idols growing up?
Jon: Early on, bands like The Animals, The Ventures, The Surfaris and Creedence Clearwater Revival were heavy influences. Later, Santana, The Allman Brothers, Jeff Beck, Deep Purple, Steely Dan, Chicago and many, many more.
Juli: I was influenced by a wide variety of 80s music – Bon Jovi, Poison, Motley Crue, Lita Ford and Joan Jett. A couple of years into my guitar life, someone said, “You can’t call yourself a guitar player until you’ve heard Joe Satriani.” My world changed, and I fell in love with instrumental rock guitar. I became obsessed with his music and also the music of Steve Vai and Eric Johnson.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
Jon: For me it was pretty much right away. At age 9, a kid moved into my neighborhood who played drums really well. We launched a band and played at a local talent show. I’ll never forget that first time we played in front of an audience. Thinking about it brings me right back.
Juli: I went to a Def Leppard concert in 1988. When I walked through the doors of the arena, it became clear that we were among the first fans inside. As I looked out onto the stage, and watched the tech crew setting up, an overwhelming feeling came over me. This was the very moment I understood that this was going to be my life.
You’ve each performed many different styles of music over the years. What musical ensembles/bands are you currently involved in?
Jon: Right now, Juli and I are playing together on a few projects: Jon Finn Group (a band I originated in 1988), The Experts (a 70s music cover band) and “Jon and Juli” (our acoustic duo). I also frequently play freelance gigs. During the pandemic, I played a few recording projects with Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra and The Boston Pops Orchestra. Juli and I are both currently writing new material for a new album, due out in the next few months.
Juli: We receive many inquiries regarding playing for recording sessions, like the Chick Singer Night fundraiser at the Burren in Somerville. We also play with Joint Venture Band featuring Debo Ray and Jerry Velona. Over the next few months, we’ll be investing much of our effort and inspiration into our Bonnie Raitt tribute and new original album with the full band.
When did you meet? Was there a spark right away?
Jon: We met at Berklee when Juli enrolled as an adult student. I remember sitting together at a table in a faculty break room and there was an instant rapport, an instant spark. I didn’t pursue my interests at the time, to maintain our professional rapport as student and teacher, but fate had different ideas, as we kept bumping into each other. I finally asked her on a date, and I’m still floored that she actually said “Yes!”
Juli: My first days at Berklee were a period of incredible transition. I literally gave away nearly everything I owned, packed up my car tight around my two young daughters, and moved across the country to a place we’d never even visited. I immediately immersed myself in school and as a mom raising my girls. I met Jon in the guitar faculty office, it didn’t seem a coincidence that I kept running into him. He was so nice, friendly and easy to talk with – I could never imagine his romantic interest in me! When he asked me on a date, I was happily shocked – it just made sense. Where else would I meet the love of my life but deep in the landscape of my music career?
How has music influenced your relationship?
Jon: It’s hard to imagine Juli and I without music and guitar as a big part of the greater picture. It’s a bit like asking, “how does water influence the way a fish lives?” Music is so integrated into our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine our lives without that integral element. One most dynamic facet of our relationship is the amazing musical chemistry that transpires when we play together. I feel like she inspires me to play to the best of my ability.
Juli: Jon and I first started working together with The Experts. I love working in a band with him, as he is the consummate professional. We never allow anything to interfere with the music, and we never allow the music to interfere with our relationship. Shortly after playing with The Experts, Jon invited me to join the Jon Finn Group. It is a great honor for me, as it is my favorite type of music to play. We give our all to the music because it is our everything. As our relationship has evolved, so has our music. We also perform songs I’ve written and songs we’ve co-written together. Everything Jon does helps my playing and singing sound better. I love that he pushes me to do and be more, for us, and for myself.
When did you get married? What kind of music did you have at the wedding?
Jon: We were married in June, 2019, in a ceremony on Chocorua Island at Squam Lake. We rented a pontoon boat and motored out to the island for the ceremony. It was just us, our children, the clergy and a photographer, fulfilling our vision of a picturesque, intimate ceremony. It rained buckets that day! They say it’s good luck, and I like that. The music was provided through birdsong, helming from the trees above us, a perfect accompaniment for the setting.
You’ve both studied at Berklee College of Music. What was your focus/degree?
Jon: My degree was in Traditional Performance. At the time, Berklee was the only college where you could major in Electric Guitar. I wasn’t terribly interested in Jazz at the time, so the Traditional Performance program felt like a good fit. I enjoyed being educated by some amazing teachers.
Juli: I pursued a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance degree, graduating in 2017. It was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life! So much so, that I am now engaged in a master’s degree program at Berklee as well.
What advantages does this type of formal music instruction provide for aspiring musicians?
Jon: Ambitious students can certainly learn a lot on their own, just by surfing the internet. A solid music education allows you to engage in the world much more effectively and efficiently. There are a lot of misconceptions about music education. Some say that learning to read music isn’t really a thing anymore. While it’s true you can learn guitar without reading, it’s also possible to never learn to read and write English. Imagine how much of life you would miss if you didn’t have that skill? As a musician, it’s the same. I don’t want to miss any facet of my music life, so I learn, and teach. I’ve been very lucky. All of my teachers have had an enormous impact on my life, learning and skill.
Juli: A music degree doesn’t guarantee fame and fortune. I am devoted to learning my craft and have been taking lessons pretty consistently since age 15. Making progress has always been my priority. Formal music training delivers a much more colorful learning palette, opening opportunities, rather than hindering progress. Imagine trying to paint with only 24 colors? That in itself limits the possibility of reaching the full spectrum of knowledge. Higher education in music provided access to that 64-pack of crayons with the sharpener on the back. And since I’m still a student, I’m still learning how to mix those 64 colors to achieve a kaleidoscope of unlimited variation.
How do you balance teaching music with your own performing career?
Jon: A good question! To me, teaching and performing are two sides of the same coin. There are at least two ways to become a better musician: 1) Play music with someone more skilled than you and encourage them to pull you up to their level. 2) Play with someone who’s less experienced than you, and be inspired to pull them up to your level.
Juli: Teaching is another facet of learning. For me, it reinforces the information and allows me to internalize knowledge, another priority in my life. My students teach me new things every week, they inspire me and push me to be better. I primarily teach via video conferences on weekdays. Most gigs occur on the weekends, with recording sessions squeezed in between. I make time for things that fall in line with my priorities, and I have the advantage of managing my own schedule.
Tell me about The Great Guitar Night event that took place in November.
Jon: Guitar great Gerry Beaudoin invited us to play “The Great Guitar Night,” billed as “a wondrous evening exploring the many facets and genres of playing guitar – from classical, blues, jazz, gypsy, R&B and rock.” It was a powerful showcase-style concert featuring many players and music genres. Jon Finn Group headlined and played some of our favorite songs. We were joined by some of the best in the business, including Brad Faucher, Gerry Beaudoin, Jack Soref, Max O’Rourke, Erin Harpe and Paul Bourgelais.
Jon, you’ve had a very diverse musical career. What are some of your most memorable gigs?
Jon: We booked our wedding/honeymoon, a week on Squam Lake a week before I was invited to play the music of Queen with the Boston Pops Orchestra and Marc Martel at Tanglewood – just two days after the wedding. Many people told me I shouldn’t take the gig and just enjoy the honeymoon, but Juli insisted I take it because it was wall-to-wall guitar. I learned a whole concert of Queen music in 48 hours. It was an incredibly satisfying rush.
There are so many other great memories, including playing the Jimi Hendrix version of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Symphony Hall in 2019, the encore of the G3 tour with Joe Satriani, John Pettrucci and Phil Collen; and performing “Dream On” with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler on The Esplanade, broadcast live coast-to-coast. I remember playing the opening chord and hearing the entire crowd of over 900,000+ people erupt into thunderous cheers the likes of which I had not previously heard. I was set up obscurely behind the bass drum, so out of view of most of the audience, but still so amazing.
How did the COVID pandemic affect your work?
Jon: When the pandemic hit, I had to very quickly learn how to teach all of my Berklee classes online, a “lemonade out of lemons” moment. Because all live gigs suddenly halted, I took time to author, film and edit a new online course, “Blues Building Blocks,” making the choice to not worry about things I couldn’t control.
Juli: Two-thirds of my income is sourced from live performance gigs, which all disappeared overnight. It was devastating, but I took that time to reinvent myself and my way of life, out of necessity. I moved all of my classes and lessons to a video conference format, and launched Juli’s Ukulele Club, with the mentality of “Find a way, make a way”. We were able to keep ourselves healthy and safe with these transitions, and also ensure that we were doing our part to keep others safe as well.
What did it feel like to get back to teaching and playing live shows after COVID?
Jon: It’s been a challenge to readjust to being out in the world again. I have to confess, I became happily accustomed to the much shorter commute! Hopefully the world will resume full normalcy in the near future.
Juli: I was able to play a few shows outdoors with Fast Times during the shutdown, a fun opportunity that generated some income, but otherwise decided it was best to stay home. After we got vaccinated, we had the opportunity to play a beautiful show that Ed Sorrentino produced at South Shore Conservatory. I remember sitting there watching a band play and feeling tingles throughout my body. After some time away from performance, I had taken for granted what live music felt like. It was such an awakening hearing music live. I was so happy and grateful for that opportunity to return.
Tell me about the Ukulele Club. How long has that been happening and who takes part?
Juli: Ukulele Club is an absolute blast! We currently have an eclectic roster of students who bring a wide range of playing levels – some beginners, some advanced. Our members tune in from all over the world. We launched this initiative a few months into the Covid shutdown to keep our students playing and maintaining connection during the new normal. The group is about a year and a half strong now, playing together every Saturday.
Juli, what was your experience like as a female rocker? Did you experience sexism in the music industry? If so, what helped you persevere?
Juli: When I first started playing I really wanted to play in a band, but no one I knew wanted a girl among them. I chose instead to study solo classical guitar, an amazing experience, but playing with others is what gives me the most joy. When I moved to Tacoma, Washington, I originated an instrumental trio. We had a great run for more than 10 years, released several CDs, toured the West Coast, opened for national acts such as Joe Satriani, Robin Trower, Blue Oyster Cult and Ronnie James Dio. I received plenty of attention as a female rocker, but also suffered criticism too. I hear, “You play really good for a girl” quite often. I’ve also been turned down for gigs, or overlooked, challenged, or asked to “not play as good” because it makes other people feel insecure. These days, I have the philosophy to shine as bright as I can, and play with my lid off. I won’t tone things down to make others feel better about themselves.
Juli, I know you’re getting a master’s degree from BerkleeOnline. What are you hoping to gain from this experience?
Juli: It was quite an honor to be accepted into this program. I’ve already learned so much in the past 6 weeks! I have two personal goals, one is to teach at the collegiate level, and another is to become a better songwriter. It’s a win, win.
What are three songs on your personal playlist when you’re relaxing at home?
Jon: Lately, I’ve been listening to Gino Vannelli’s Live album, “A Night in LA.”
Juli: I’ve been listening to so much music that when I’m home relaxing, I enjoy the silence. Or I pick up a guitar and write a new song.
Do you have any special events or projects planned for 2022 that you’re excited about?
Juli: We already have some shows booked in Jackson, Wyoming, next August with our band The Experts. We are in the planning stages of a collaborative performance with Friends in Song, an incredible a cappella ensemble that draws about 14 South Shore and Cape Cod vocalists, to be announced after the holidays. We also look forward to playing songs from our new record in 2022.
What inspired your Wellspring A Collection of Practice Affirmations album?
Juli: For a few years, I was dealing with anxiety around practicing so much that I stopped practicing altogether. I had a brainstorm to look for a practice meditation that would help me break out of the downward spiral and get moving again. I couldn’t find anything like that, so I made a recording for myself. I shared it with someone else who was also experiencing anxiety and it helped them too! Then they asked to share it, and it has grown exponentially from there. I created 10 affirmation recordings to help any musician get their anxiety in check, get back on track and enjoy practicing again.
How do you incorporate meditation and mindfulness in your own life?
Jon: We have two beautiful dogs in our family. They remind us daily how important it is to live in the moment. Playing music requires all of my concentration and mindfulness. When I do that successfully, the music benefits, and I do as well. I use that as a reminder to do everything with that level of mindfulness. For me, music is meditation.
Juli: Because I suffer from anxiety, it is necessary to check in with myself and use my tools to stay on track. I practice yoga daily. Before practicing guitar, I listen to one of my meditations, and have check-ins throughout my day to pray and connect to myself, God and the world. Music is meditation for me as well.
What is your approach to songwriting?
Jon: I have one rule – there are no rules. Try everything. Go with what sounds good.
Juli: Since I’ve started my degree I’ve been learning how to begin writing a song and how to climb out of a songwriting rut. I think getting started is the hardest facet of songwriting. I’m learning the easy part is what follows.
Did I hear you have another album being released in 2022?
Jon: Yes we do, we are shooting for the spring. We have been assembling songs for a few years now, and we’re currently in the recording studio finishing and fine tuning the tracks before we enjoy the opportunity to announce the release date.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
Jon: My advice is very simple – Be good first. Learn to play really well before worrying about making a name for yourself. If you do that, making a name for yourself becomes much easier.
Juli: Be in it for the long game. Be inspired by others, but resist making comparisons. We all have our own journey with hills, valleys, joys and frustrations. Learn who you are in music, and your why, and stay focused on that. It’s the fuel to keep you moving forward.
By Maria Allen