SIKESTON - Like most children, songs and melodies stuck in John Engram's head. Unlike most children, though, what he heard was not written yet.
Engram, however, didn't find anything odd with his talent. "I figured everybody did that," he commented. Before he could even talk, he sang and harmonized with his older sister. And at the young age of 12, he got his first guitar - and wrote his first song.
Words and melodies come to Engram when he is playing his guitar. "I use the guitar as a tool to show others what is in my head," he said. To him, song writing is a habit that he feels he must keep doing. "I feel better when I write," he said. "It clears my head."
Engram, a farmer and seed salesman, has continued writing. He stores his songs in a suitcase after he writes them. "Some day when I get the chance, I'll start sending them," he said.
But for right now, he is content in performing his songs solo and with his band, Common Thread. This five-man acoustic rock group has opened concerts in the region for stars include Lonestar, Tanya Tucker and Vince Gill. They also play in coffee shops and for benefits, such as the Kenny Rogers Children's Center Telethon. WPSD television heard them perform, and Common Thread will be performing for their telethon later this year. Engram said that the group usually has one performance a month.
The group won't accept payment, not even to cover their own expenses. "It never has been about the money," Engram said.
"We just love music." Instead, they ask that donations be given to charities, specifically St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"I try to make my songs about real things," Engram said. He writes about his observations and things he observes going on in other people's lives. Although he didn't realize when he wrote it, the lyrics of his song "Happy Man" go along with the message of St. Jude. "Life is incredible," he said.
When he was six years old, Engram himself was a bone cancer patient at St. Jude's At that time, researchers were in the beginning stages of experimenting on bone cancer and the boy given six months to live is now fine, having never experienced a recurrence.
The St. Jude television program "A Time To Live" features Engram singing his song. When he was singing "Happy Man" at the St. Jude Survivor Day, a man was there taping it and asked if the song could be used. St. Jude has since asked Engram to write another song, which he has completed and will submit soon.
"I never wanted to be famous or make money," he remarked. He said that he has always had a need to write.
Right now, Engram reports that he is trying to do what he can in his spare time. He hopes that sometime in the future, when he has accomplished everything that he wants as a farmer and in his seed business, he will be ready to do more in the professional music business. "Someday it will be a bigger focus, but it is not a lifetime goal right now," he said.
Some people who aspire to be songwriters attend workshops or belong to organizations to help them achieve their dreams. Engram has never had to do that. "When I pick up the guitar, something happens," he said.
However, there is one obstacle that he is still working to overcome - his shyness. But he said it's all worth it when his band plays his music. To him, it is the neatest thing, knowing that others can hear what were thoughts in his mind. He has had to overcome obstacles and fears, but he is glad for that. "I love music more than I hate performing," he commented.
Engram's talent and love for music seems to have been inherited by his 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who sings and plays the piano. The duo is planning to perform in coffee shops this fall. Engram is ready for the new experience. "I'm really excited."