Local Country Musician John Scargall is Living the Dream
The Ridley Park native released his album ‘Breakthrough’ on Oct. 6.
He writes the songs: John Scargall has some big-time aspirations//All photos by Tessa Marie Images.
Low-down, dirty heartbreak is the stuff of great country-rock anthems. So are songs about getting kicked in the head by fate.
John Scargall’s songs aren’t like that, because his life isn’t like that. And while he has done his share of playing for free in dark bars, his rise to success has been downright meteoric.
In May, Scargall’s tune, “Leave It on the Track,” became the theme for the NASCAR ’15 video game. He spent most of 2015 performing at National Hot Rod Association races across the country. On Oct. 6, the 26-year-old from Ridley Park will release his first album. Aptly titled Breakthrough, it features 10 songs written by Scargall and fellow Malvern Prep alum Christian O’Connor.
O’Connor—a singer, guitarist and keyboardist—has had his own success. He released the 2013 album, Dogma, Dharma, Grace, and Karma, touring with Jennifer Paige (of “Crush” fame) at just 19 years old. Now 25 and living in Wayne, he’s playing local shows and finishing his undergraduate degree at Drexel University.
Though he considers Scargall a friend, O’Connor made time to collaborate with him for another reason. “John has one of the biggest voices of anyone I know,” O’Connor says. “It’s truly one of a kind. I hate to say this because I don’t know if he likes it, but it’s almost an operatic voice. It’s vibrato-y, rich and deep.”
Except that Scargall is singing country. “People sometimes flinch when they hear the first few notes of his singing, because the boom of his voice is so unexpected,” O’Connor admits. “But then they like it, and they instantly hear what we all hear: a voice that’s going to become famous.”
In many ways, Scargall already sounds like a star. He has a polished delivery and near-perfect pitch, and his tone is weirdly familiar—a bit like Johnny Cash. Granted, it’s a happy, genial version. If anything, Scargall is more of a Millennial Man in Black, with trendy specs, a social media army and supportive parents.
It became rather obvious that Scargall could sing when he auditioned for The Music Man his sophomore year at Malvern Prep. “I wasn’t interested in musicals, and I never sang in front of anyone,” he says. “But my buddy and I were passing the school’s theater on the way to football practice, and he said, ‘I bet you won’t do theater.’ I said, ‘I bet I could. I’m going to try out.’”
After watching the movie version and listening to the soundtrack, Scargall went for the lead role in The Music Man. He didn’t get it, but he landed a different part, kicking off his training in performance. Scargall kept singing, grabbing the lead in Malvern’s Fiddler on the Roof and joining the Malvern Men’s Chorus.
Burning Rubber: John Scargall’s path to success has been surprisingly speedy and stress free.
John Scargall did the sensible thing and went to college, majoring in business at Millersville University. “My trajectory was to graduate from Millersville, then get my MBA, then own my own business or become CEO of a big company,” he says.
He enjoyed his courses in finance and economics so much that he launched his own college-based businesses and raked in some serious money. One company sold coupon booklets for school groups’ fund-raising campaigns. Another, University Bid, was an auction website for college students. “We broke even in the first week,” he says. “The second week, the site crashed because of all the traffic it had.”
Though he’d put his music interests on a back burner, Scargall did participate in the Millersville Idol singing contest. The judges loved his version of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” and he won the competition. “The style is more classical than songs I sing now,” recalls Scargall. “But I liked the operatic expanse of the music.”
Still, the win wasn’t enough to pull Scargall away from a career in business. After graduation, he accepted a job in the finance department at Boeing, where he’d been interning. “It was a great job for being right out of college,” he says. “I was making money, had good benefits and a future with the company.”
Then music managed to sneak back into the picture for Scargall. O’Connor’s album had been released, and he was doing shows in local clubs. Scargall had been at the recording sessions at MorningStar Studios in East Norriton, and he’d started to sing with his friend’s band.
Inspired, Scargall quite his day job to pursue his music full time. “I had enough money to make an album, so that was the plan,” he says.
Over the next year, Scargall worked toward his goal with the same focused work ethic he’d employed in theater and his college businesses—two areas he knew nothing about until he dove into them. He bought books and watched instructional videos about songwriting, honing his voice and performing skills.
Singing with O’Connor’s band meant that Scargall was doing their music: rock. Over time, he realized that his own style wasn’t really that straightforward—and it certainly wasn’t Josh Groban, either.
“What I like is a reflection of Green Day and classic rock that I listen to, with a lot of harmonies and a country influence like the Band Perry, Dierks Bentley and especially Johnny Cash,” says Stargall.
Country rock became Scargall’s genre, so he took it for a spin at open-mike nights around the area, from World Cafe Live in Philadelphia to the Sam Ash music store in King of Prussia. “I would sing covers with a country twist—like Green Day’s ‘She’—with different pacing and a little twang, and the audience responded very positively,” he says. “That’s when I started doing my act as me. Before, I’d been testing things out and doing covers to get used to performing.”
Scargall’s career began to take off. The NHRA booked him to perform at racing venues in the Eastern United States. He won a competition that made his tune, “That Wind’s Always Gonna Blow,” the theme song of Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children’s 2014 Help Our Kids Radiothon. The song went to No. 1 on 93.7 WSTW, giving Scargall a surprise regional hit.
Soon thereafter, NASCAR chose two of Scargall’s tunes for its videogames.
“Every time you start NASCAR ’15, ‘Leave It on the Track’ plays and, to be totally honest, that’s awesome,” he says. “Now, when I play at races, people know the song and sing along. It’s great.”
Scargall also landed an appearance on Steel Sessions, a concert-style TV show that airs on the Lehigh Valley’s PBS39. He played a 25-minute set of songs from Breakthrough. It will be available through iTunes and Amazon on Oct. 9.
“I’ve had a good amount of success before my album is even out, which is not the way it usually happens for musicians,” he says. “I’m grateful for everything that’s happened. I’m living my dream.”
And he’s writing songs for his second album—so look out.