By John Ostapowicz
In Youngstown, a small-town musician has created a name for himself with nine albums, a critically acclaimed novel and numerous live performances.
American singer, songwriter and novelist JD Eicher grew up in the Mahoning Valley and attended Canfield High School. His love for music started when he was 12 years old and said he gravitated to the guitar because of its emotional-sounding rhythm.
“Music to me has always been the closest thing to magic,” Eicher said. “I’ve always been in awe of it because it’s like you’re pulling it out of thin air.”
After high school, Eicher attended Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, where he majored in business music.
During his time in college, he started performing as JD Eicher, Guy With Guitar. After forming a band, the name changed to JD Eicher & the Goodnights. The inspiration for the band name comes from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, an artist and band who were known for both solo and accompanied tracks.
In 2011, Eicher’s band was selected by Alternative Addiction Magazine as one of the top 10 unsigned bands of the year.
“I didn’t realize how useful that ranking was, but it continues to come up, which is cool,” Eicher said.
A year later, the ranking earned the band a deal with Rock Ridge Music. Before the pandemic, Eicher mutually parted ways with Rock Ridge Music, eventually signing with AntiFragile Music.
With members coming and going because of other commitments and obligations, Eicher found the lineup that worked best.
Since 2012, Eicher has maintained a consistent rhythm section with Jim Merhaut on bass and Dylan Kollat on drums.
Kollat grew up in Youngstown and attended Youngstown State University. His love for the drums started in fifth grade and continued into college. He’s been teaching the drumline at YSU since 2011.
Both Eicher and Kollat worked in a music store together in Canfield teaching lessons. It was a mutual connection through Ed Davis, the former drummer of Red Wanting Blue, that led to Kollat partnering with Eicher.
“I never got to talk to JD that much until then. It was pretty easy because we were all in the same building at the time,” Kollat said.
When Eicher was growing up, he took guitar lessons with Merhaut throughout high school. After Eicher’s original bass player quit, Merhaut was asked to fill in and has been with the band ever since.
“I said yeah, I will do it until you find someone else — and that was 14 years ago,” Merhaut said.
Eicher, Kollat and Merhaut have played numerous venues in the area, with the band’s members each having a favorite.
For Eicher, The Soap Gallery in downtown Youngstown has been home to many ground breaking performances for him.
Prior to the pandemic, Eicher hosted JD’s Summer Song Fest with the support of The Soap Gallery. He brought together local musicians to provide a low cost, outdoor venue for the Youngstown community.
“The Soap Gallery is near and dear to my heart. They have been central to a lot of important events, musically for me,” Eicher said.
2016 was a big year for Eicher and his band, as it dropped “the Goodnights” from the band’s name completely. The same year the band released “The Middle Distance,” the first album under the new name. He also recorded and composed the soundtrack to Nicholas Sparks’ novel, “Two by Two.”
The EP garnered national recognition from media companies, record labels and Good Morning America, with his music being streamed thousands of times.
In 2022, the trio performed at Federal Frenzy, which was hosted by YSU Penguin Productions. The event had been on hiatus since 2019 because of the pandemic.
“It was really cool to see [Federal Frenzy] come together beautifully. The weather was great and people were out and about,” Eicher said.
In the same year, Eicher released his first novel, “The Lights Along Majesto,” with the accompanying album “Majesto Sessions.”
Eicher and his band will be back in the area April 28 to perform at The Soap Gallery’s final show. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets can be purchased online at jdeicher.com.