November 2007 Issue
Sabina singer Gran Bel Fisher returns to his roots.
On a cool, clear summer evening at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, an up-and-coming musician on a side stage sings and pounds passionately on his keyboard, entertaining passersby as they excitedly wend their way to the main stage to see John Mayer — singer-songwriter, guitarist and heartthrob — in concert.
Few pay much notice to Gran Bel Fisher (born Jesse Littleton) from Sabina Ohio, a ruggedly handsome 25-year-old with long brown hair and a powerful voice, whose sound has been compared to Jim Morrison, U2, Jeff Buckley and Coldplay. But chances are, they will soon.
Fisher’s star is rising. His song “Bound By Love” is featured on the popular “Grey’s Anatomy’ soundtrack, and he performed another song, “Crash and Burn” on NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” He also keeps a frenetic touring schedule –– since the Hollywood Records release of his debut album, “Full Moon Cigarette,” in July 2006, he’s played more than 200 shows. Album reviews have been favorable: “For certain, we’ll all be hearing more from this pop-rock ready-made superstar,” wrote Mike McGonigal of Amazon.com.
Though he’s lived on both coasts in the name of music, Fisher says he is “an Ohio boy” through and through.
He flashes a warm smile at a woman who has stopped to chat with him after his set. It widens when he learns that she grew up in Ohio. Fisher and his filmmaker girlfriend, Courtney Graves, recently moved back to Sabina, a small farming community (population: fewer than 3,000) located midway between Columbus and Cincinnati, after living in Los Angeles for three and a half years.
Family has always been an important part of Fisher’s life. In fact, he takes his stage name from what he once thought was his great-great-grandfather’s name. (He had misheard the name, which was actually Granville Fisher Littleton). The name stuck with him, though, and he adopted it as his own.
“There are a lot of grandmas getting older and grandpas, and some newborn babies that we want to watch grow up,” he says of the decision to return to his hometown. “We bought a home that was built in the 1800s. It’s on six acres. It’s a complete change from where we once were.”
Growing up, Fisher was the second of four siblings, all of whom were required at an early age to take piano lessons. He initially assumed he would go into the family business — the Littleton Funeral Home in Sabina has been in his family since 1905 — but the music bug bit when Fisher was in high school. He took up guitar, started writing songs and attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati.
“I felt more like myself when I played music than any other time,” he says. “That’s kind of when I realized, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
According to his father, Roger Littleton, Fisher never needed to be asked to practice piano between his lessons. “Any place he’d go, he’d just make up songs and he’d play,” Littleton says. “He was never a kid who was afraid to play in front of anybody… Early on he liked the entertainment aspect of it.”
Living in such close proximity to death also had an impact, helping Fisher to realize that “rich or poor, everyone has the same reaction to death, which is complete disbelief,” he says. “For me, it was very humbling to witness that.” The music video for “Bound by Love,” directed by and starring Graves, was set and filmed in his family’s funeral home.
After high school he packed up and moved to Nashville, hoping to land a record deal. While in Nashville and struggling with the harsh realities of the music industry, “I had this dream — it wasn’t exact — but I just woke up and had the feeling that I had to go to New York City,” he says. He called his parents, who encouraged him to make the move. “Their philosophy was, ‘We don’t care what you do. Just do something.’”
Two months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Fisher relocated to New York, met a talent agent with industry connections, and his career started to fall into place. He recorded “Full Moon Cigarette” in Los Angeles, but eventually grew weary of the Hollywood lifestyle.
“One of my proudest moments was having that record made,” he says. “No matter what happens, I got to do that and I got to express to the world how I feel on a grander scale. Not a lot of people get that chance.”
Currently, Fisher is busy settling back into small town life, playing gigs around the state and planning his next album. “I literally live in the country now, surrounded by woods,” he says. “It’ll affect the music. It already has. I’ve already started writing the next record, and we plan on recording it in Ohio and releasing it in January. It’s definitely going to be a Midwestern record.”
Sabina residents have greeted Fisher’s return with open arms, turning out to support him for two homecoming concerts and posting encouraging messages on his MySpace page.
“Every day I just try to be creative and use my imagination,” he says. “I’m just trying to make my mark while I’m here. I don’t know what’s coming next but I’m going to have fun while I’m here, that’s for sure.”
At Blossom Music Center, Fisher pauses to listen to John Mayer’s first opening act, singer-songwriter Brett Dennen, who has started his set on the main stage. “I can’t wait to be playing that someday,” he says with a smile, pointing at the stage, which appears larger than life in the distance.
For more information on Gran Bel Fisher, including upcoming Ohio tour dates, visit www.granbelfisher.com