Ben O’Neill on touring with John Legend and living the music life

Musician Ben O'Neill tours with John Legend playing guitar and finds time to release his own work, too. | Provided

When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life, and according to Philly musician Ben O’Neill, he’s got the best job in the world.

The professional guitarist is on a short break from touring the world with R&B superstar John Legend, an artist he greatly admires.

“It’s amazing to play music on that level with someone who is undeniably one of the best to ever do it,” O’Neill says. “When they write the book on soul music and R&B, he will be the torchbearer of this era. It’s cool to be connected in a small way to something like that.”

During his time off from touring, he’ll be playing a show at Bourbon and Branch in Northern Liberties (along with Amanda Brown and Katie Frank), promoting his latest EP “Salt.”  Recorded at Milkboy Studios in Philadelphia, it draws inspiration from artists like Tom Petty, Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell.

“It’s an Americana rock record and we recorded as organically as we could,” he says. “The collection of songs look at trying to move forward and learning from the difficult things in life.”

O’Neill’s musical journey in Philadelphia began at University of the Arts, where he studied jazz guitar, but he ended up becoming well-versed in gospel music as well.

“There were a couple of musicians there who grew up in church and came in as freshmen as the best musicians in the school,” O’Neill remembers. “I didn’t know anything about gospel music, but whatever they were doing, I needed to be apart of. They were generous enough to introduce me to some people and teach me the basics of gospel. That opened a lot of doors.”

O’Neill’s extracurricular study of gospel music prepared him for the Neo soul and hip hop movement, which according to O’Neill, was largely influenced by gospel.
“So many of the musicians being called for those tours and recording sessions were coming out of church. I was incredibly fortunate to meet up with talented people at the right time,” he says.

Since then, O’Neill has played with some of music’s biggest names like Kanye West, Sting, Jill Scott, Kid Cudi, Christina Aguilera and of course, John Legend.

Beginning mid-February, O’Neill is out on the road again with the “All of Me” singer again for shows in the Middle East and Asia.

For musicians out there aspiring to a career in music, O’Neill has the following advice:

“Do serious thinking on what it is you think you want to do and find the people doing it at a high level. Build relationships with them and learn from them — it’s not a secret formula,” he says. “Then you have to be willing to work harder than the next guy. You have to be willing to work at being the best version of yourself all the time. That requires a lot of hard work.”

With great things come great sacrifice and being a full-time musician is no different, but O’Neill wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s incredible to play with great musicians and I’ve been all over the world. I’ve seen places I never would have seen otherwise,” he says.

If you go:
Ben O’Neill
Thursday, Jan. 11
Doors: 7 p.m.
Show: 7:30 p.m.
Bourbon & Branch
705 N. 2nd St.

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