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: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking


$20 ($18 members)

Fri. July 17, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM · Online Classes Available

Learn a masterpiece from the “Sticky Fingers” album

Tom Petty Songbag


$20 ($18 members)

Thu. July 23, 8:30 PM – 9:50 PM · Online Classes Available

Explore big hits and deep cuts with John Mead; knowing some barre chords and being willing to try some licks will help, but not knowing won’t kill you.

Radiohead Songbag


$20 ($18 members)

Sat. July 25, 6:00 PM – 7:20 PM · Online Classes Available

Don’t be left high and dry by missing this one!

Group Classes for the session beginning 06/29/2020

Guitar 2 Repertoire with John Mead

$181 ($161 members)

06/29/2020 – 08/10/2020 (7 meetings)

Mondays · 8:00 PM – 9:20 PM · Online Classes Available

Stevie Wonder Songbag with John Mead

Learn a handful of songs from this musical geniuses whose career has spanned 6 decades.

$99 ($89 members)

07/01/2020 – 07/22/2020 (4 meetings)

Wednesdays · 8:00 PM – 9:20 PM · Online Classes Available

Fleetwood Mac Songbook with John Mead

$99 ($89 members)

07/02/2020 – 07/23/2020 (4 meetings)

Thursdays · 7:00 PM – 8:20 PM · Online Classes Available

Guitar 2 with John Mead

$155 ($138 members)

07/11/2020 – 08/15/2020 (6 meetings)

Saturdays · 11:00 AM – 12:20 PM · Online Classes Available

Pink Floyd Acoustic Songbook with John Mead

$99 ($89 members)

07/11/2020 – 08/01/2020 (4 meetings)

Saturdays · 1:00 PM – 2:20 PM · Online Classes Available