Former Sapulpan lands music deal, headed to Appalachian Trail, then Europe

J.W. Francis is an odd character, there’s no denying it. His long, bushy beard—paired with his equally long, curly hair—gives the impression of a mountain man or modern-day hippy. He’s wearing jeans, a collared shirt, and rainbow-colored Crocs.

He embraces the quirkiness in a fun way that shows he loves life, people, and doing the things that make him happy. Now, the 27-year-old musician has signed his first record deal, is going on tour—and is about to hike the famed Appalachian Trail.

But more on that, later.

Francis’ music is best described as “smooth groove,” and is nearly in a category all its own. The lyrics, which range from simple (“I Love You”) to deep (“All There”), evoke the spirits of Jonathan Richmond in the 1960s, as well as the Pixies, to some degree.

JW Francis stands near the Mentholatum Ghost Sign in downtown Sapulpa. The former Sapulpan is celebrating a new record deal as he heads to the UK to kick off his tour.

His YouTube Channel (JW Francis) has several music videos from his recent songs that landed him the record deal and provide a unique insight into the mind of the young musician who’s somehow managed to go from Sapulpa to Paris (his family moved there when he was twelve), to New York and now across the Big Pond, since his first tour will be based in the UK, visiting Birmingham, London, Manchester, Glasgow, Paris, and Brussels.

“The label is based (in the UK), so they’ve been getting me on the radio on BBC. I’m trying to do like a reverse British Invasion,” he says, chuckling.

But before he does that, he’s going on what might be considered a grander tour: The Applachian Trail. For the second time, actually. Sort of.

In the Sapulpa Times office promoting his upcoming meet-and-greet, he told us about his first time hiking the Trail. “I made so many mistakes,” he said.

JW Francis at Josey Records in Tulsa, doing a meet-and-greet before he hits the Appalachian Trial. Photo provided.

In 2015, he had just finished a show in Georgia and while the rest of the band wanted to head right back home to NYC, he decided to take the opportunity to see what else there is to do in Georgia.

“I saw the Appalachian Trail is right there, and I was taking a walking class (in junior college), so I was like, ‘why don’t I try to walk for a week on the trail?'”

For those that don’t know, the Appalachian Trail is 2196 miles and goes from Georgia to Maine. Hiking the full trail typically takes about four months.

“I made so many mistakes,” Francis told us. “First of all, I didn’t bring a tent. I just convinced myself I didn’t need it. I thought, ‘I have a sleeping bag I can wrap myself in.’ I never stopped to consider, ‘what if it rains?'”

“I took a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread because, I was like, ‘I can survive on that.’ I borrowed a pair of shoes, and I took like four rolls of toilet paper because I thought I was going to poop a lot, I guess.”

Francis knows that his lack of planning robbed him of the full Applachian Trail experience.

“It was a total disaster. I walked for like, 40 miles—which was good—and then got a really expensive Uber to get me back home.”

Despite his setbacks, Francis said that the experience was so great that he’s going to go back and finish the whole trail. “There were these moments where I was just crying from gratitude because I was like, this is the most beautiful experience.”

One of his favorite parts of the trail was meeting the other people, who took a sympathetic view of his plight. “They had everything all planned out. I got a lot of sympathy meals,” he says, laughing. “They nicknamed me ‘Cowboy’ because I didn’t have a tent.”

As he prepares to go on tour in the fall, Francis says hiking the full trail is a great way to transition to being a full-time musician. “They’re already talking about the tour and I’m going to do another one in 2022. If everything right, I should be on the road for awhile.”