Teachers at the Old Town School

John Mead


I started playing guitar at age fifteen; I taught myself by listening to records. I played in bands ‘til I was about twenty-two, then veered off to earned bachelor’s degrees in painting and in English, and ultimately a Ph.D. in American literature. I came back to playing music about twenty years ago, thanks to the Old Town School of Folk Music, where I was originally a student in ensembles, from which the band Mystery Train formed; I began teaching here myself in 2002, with a (misguided) hiatus from 2003 to 2008.
I’ve been a singer, lead guitar player, songwriter, and band leader in many, many, bands, and organized many, many projects—including the first Old Town School of Folk Music tribute in 2001—from disco shows to classic rock & roll tributes to original music.  I teach ensembles at OTSFM—Bowie, Springsteen, Prince, Petty, Stones, The Isleys, Stevie, Gladys, funk, disco, rhythm and blues, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s—lots of stuff.
My strength as a guitarist and teacher is playing—and explaining—soul, R&B, funk, and ‘70s rock guitar (Stones, Zeppelin) and breaking down chord and fretboard theory into practical, economical, useful terms. I consider the gap between lead and rhythm playing an artificial (and spurious) one; there are only guitar players, whether acoustic or electric, and anyone who puts some time into it can become one.
I currently lead the band Conspiracy Theories, play lead for the Heart tribute Little Queens as well as original bands Boundary Waters and Steph and the Elements, and I stage a number of tribute shows every year. I present my own and others’ projects at First Mondays at Martyrs every month, and I play wherever else I can. You can find my work recorded on the first Crumbs Off the Table and Bitter Roots albums. Eventually I’ll get my own first record finished.
I’ve done a lot of other stuff too. I taught college writing and lit classes for twenty years, I have three nearly-grown daughters, I still paint, and I’ve written a little fiction and a LOT of cultural, historical, and political analysis of the United States. I’m also program manager at the Sue Duncan Children’s Center, a fifty+ year old afterschool program on the South Side. And I read a lot. I try to keep busy, I don’t know what my life would be like without music, and I can’t imagine my life without the Old Town School of Folk Music.

Started at the Old Town School in September of 2008

Upcoming Workshops

One Song One Night: All Along The Watchtower


$20 ($18 members)

Fri. March 12, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM · Online

This evening we’ll explore the Jimi Hendrix version of the Bob Dylan classic, and all its implications for the guitar players and songwriters who came after. Don’t be scared of this stuff; it’s WAY easier and more straightforward—and endlessly useful—than you think.

The Eagles Songbag


$20 ($18 members)

Sat. March 20, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM · Online

Join in on a grab-bag of great country rock tunes by Gram Parsons’ millionaire step-children. You know the songs; now make them yours.  

Steve Earle Songbag


$20 ($18 members)

Fri. March 26, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM · Online

Songs of heartache and class consciousness from another great Texas songwriter, the Southwest’s answer to Bruce Springsteen. We’ll cover some of his later acoustic stuff, but we’ll lean into his early, angry rock & roll. We’ll provide lyric and chord charts.

Guitar Tricks Workshop: La Grange- Open G Boogie


$20 ($18 members)

Sat. April 03, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM · Online

In this workshop, you’ll learn the secret of this Texas/Louisiana blues shuffle that ZZ Top made famous, but that goes back to Slim Harpo and John Lee Hooker, with a stop-off at the Rolling Stones. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’ll get your rhythm work going.

R&B Songbag: Lost Classics from the ‘60s


$20 ($18 members)

Fri. April 09, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM · Online

We’re going deep O.V. Wright, Barbara Lynn, Bobby Parker, William Bell, as well as some more familiar names like Ike and Tina and Etta James.

Classic Album Songbag: Let It Bleed by The Stones


$20 ($18 members)

Fri. April 16, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM · Online

One of the greatest albums of the rock era, and the dark soundtrack to the end of the 60s, these nine indelible songs are touchstones for guitar players. We’ll do standard tuning and open G and E, and you’ll be shocked that you’ll be able to play these tunes just like you hear them on the record.

Chuck Berry Songbag


$20 ($18 members)

Sat. April 24, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM · Online

We’ll dig in past Johnny B. Goode to learn his licks AND marvel at the concision and poetry of his storytelling. Charts and tabs will be provided.

Group Classes for the session beginning 03/01/2021

Advancing Guitar: Licks and Tricks with John Mead

$180 ($163 members)

03/08/2021 – 04/19/2021 (7 meetings)

Mondays · 6:30 PM – 7:50 PM · Online

Led Zeppelin Guitar Styles with John Mead

$172 ($152 members)

03/04/2021 – 04/22/2021 (8 meetings)

Thursdays · 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM · In-Person @4545 N Lincoln Ave