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John C. Reilly

Chicago. Gangs of New York. Days of Thunder. And even the animated feature Wreck-It Ralph. These are the film vehicles via which actor John C. Reilly’s showed off his extensive acting talent over the years.

But Reilly is also deft at another, lesser-known role – that being as a musician. He’s actually been a musician for years, although acting took precedence for quite some time, since Reilly was a kid actor, to be exact. But the music ‘bug’ was there from the beginning.

Reilly

“I started out as an actor at 8 years old, doing musicals in Chicago. All everyone really did then were musicals,” Reilly chuckles, “so you had to at least learn to sing and dance.”

Growing up in a musical family was probably part of what instilled music in Reilly, as much as he found himself drawn to acting. He grew up with a player piano and guitars always ’round the house, so it didn’t take long before the music started to find its way into his acting jobs.

“I never really intended to be a musician, but once people heard that I could sing, my film work started to ask that of me,” he says. “And once they find out that you can do music, you get asked more and more.”

Perhaps his most notable acting-musical combo to date was as Roxie Hart’s beleaguered, devoted husband, Amos, in the film version of the long-running musical Chicago, in which his “Mr. Cellophane” was a true standout among the film’s many uber-catchy songs. Reilly’s own music, inspired by classic Americana and bluegrass sounds, is worlds away genre-wise, but just as catchy and expertly-rendered in its own right.

Dubbed “John Reilly and Friends” (he’s dropped the “C.” for his musical project, as the Screen Actors Guild doesn’t require it of him in a different field), Reilly’s band is actually a rotating cast of musician friends that perform alongside him both on record and on stage. His goal, you’d think, would be to write new songs, as many musicians strive for – but instead, Reilly’s aims are of a more historical turn. He’s working to help preserve old-time folk tunes like those made popular by The Stanley Brothers, The Everly Brothers, and The Carter Family (which included the same June Carter who would go on to collaborate with, and eventually marry, Johnny Cash.)
“The Stanley Brothers were one of the first bluegrass acts I listened to,” Reilly recollects, “and The Carter Family are still really the first family of country music.”

Before them, he explains, a lot of the old songs had a chance of disappearing, as they were only passed along on sheet music or by people playing the songs.

“The movie O Brother, Where Art Thou was also a catalyst in helping this style of music catch on again with people,” he points out. “It’s a genre that’s really making a return. There’s such an immortal quality to those songs – I’m drawn to that kind of music. So we are just trying to help keep it alive.”

With anywhere from six to eight people in the band, Reilly’s already done a Midwestern tour this past summer with John Reilly and Friends.

But fans of Reilly’s acting don’t have to worry that he’s abandoning one thing for another – his film career isn’t slowing down either.  Starting next week, you’ll be able to see him in the much-anticipated Marvel ensemble film Guardians of the Galaxy – in which, coincidentally, music also plays a pretty big role in the plot.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-john-c-reillyFriend or foe? Reilly as Corpsman Rhomann Dey of Nova Corps in Guardians of the Galaxy (opening Aug. 1)

And in between promotions for Galaxy, Reilly has been continuing his balancing act by busily working with (White Stripe) Jack White in Nashville on a couple of tracks, with more on the way, if Reilly has any say in the matter.

“Oh yeah, Jack’s an old pal of mine now,” Reilly laughs. “We will probably record an album with him by the end of the summer.”

Until the galaxy calls him back for a second tour of duty, that is…