In 1983, while living in Seattle, John O’Connor sent a batch of his songs off to Flying Fish Records cold and–almost unheard of in the music business at that time–landed a contract to make an album of his powerful original songs. Songs For Our Times came out in 1984 and was named one of the best albums of the year by the Washington Post and several folk publications and radio stations.
Geoffrey Himes, in his Washington Post review said of John’s songs, “Mister, Slow It Down,” ... is the best hitchhiking song since Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGree.” O'Connor’s “Missy and Me” is the best song about old age since John Prine’s “Hello in There.” “A Cold November,” an a cappella ballad about a poor man harassed by a Chicago cop, echoes Woody Guthrie's hobo songs.
Almost 40 years later, having traveled the country, touring and working as a union organizer, John has gathered a treasure-trove of songs, stories and poems about the working class, war and peace, love and loss. Craig Harris has said, “...O’Connor has shaped his own acute observations of the working class into songs that beg to be sung along to...” Si Kahn calls his songs “wonderful: direct, simple, singable, powerful.” “Songwriting… right out of the same well that slaked Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger,” commented the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch.
John’s music has always been inseparable from his involvement in working class politics. He began his involvement in the labor movement right out of high school when he went to work in the factories of Waterloo, Iowa. His passion for American folk music led to a career as a folk singer and a cultural educator, performing in concerts, festivals, coffeehouses, schools and colleges, union education programs and political action events.
John recorded three albums with Flying Fish, one of them with the political quartet, ‘Shays Rebellion’, and a CD on the Chroma label. He also recorded a CD produced in conjunction with Collector Records called “We Ain’t Gonna Give It Back”, which is regarded by many as one of the best collections of original songs on the American labor movement. The late Joe Glazer said of John, “He writes the best songs about labor you are likely to hear.” Britain’s Southern Rag has said that “John O’Connor deserves to be numbered with the all-time greats of contemporary folk music.”
In 2017 John released his first CD in more than 20 years. Upon release, Rare Songs was ranked for several weeks in the top 50 albums on the US folk charts. John McCutcheon wrote, “John O'Connor's wonderful new album, Rare Songs... is a welcome return of one of our best and most humane songwriters.”
Some 50 years after walking through the gates of his first factory job, John is still stalwart in his focus of fighting for the working class and inspiring them with his music and their music. John’s songs have been recorded by numerous singers from around the world. In 2009, the French topical singer, Renaud, adapted and recorded O’Connor’s song of deindustrialization, North by North, which went to number one on the French charts.
Also an accomplished poet, John has seen his poems published in dozens of literary magazines. He has won the Associated Writer’s Program’s Prague Prize and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. His book of poems, Half the Truth, won the Violet Reed Haas Poetry Award in 2015.