Overcoming hardship, health issues one bass note at a time

John Newcombe is the self-described “dark underbelly” of music in Big Rapids

BIG RAPIDS — West Michigan band "The One Divided" plays a rougher, heavier sound that is generally expressive of raw emotions, hardships and the difficulties of life. But for one musician, the music has done nothing but guide him to a healthier life. 

Bass player John Newcombe has been overcoming adversity for the past five years and turning that inner pain into better music for himself, his band and the rest of the world to enjoy.

Newcombe started playing bass as a teenager, holed up in his dark bedroom, playing bass riffs expressing the angst he felt about the world, unable to understand why it works the way it does. Since then, Newcombe has kept his love for bass and music alive by playing with dozens of bands.

He estimates he has been in 40 to 50 bands, written hundreds of songs, and knows just about every musician in the Big Rapids and Reed City areas.

However, he’s recently fallen upon hard times, health-wise.

“The last five to seven years have been kind of rough, I have had very extreme diabetes and stuff that I've been battling. And as it turns out, I had hypertension on top of that," Newcombe said. "So, I had heart failure in 2017. At a show, I was carrying my gear through a foot of snow and started feeling weak and rundown. And then the next day, I had problems breathing and went to the ER, it turned out I had heart failure."

He was also diagnosed with adult kidney failure and has lost 70 percent of the vision in one eye and 50 percent in the other due to diabetes.

Newcombe’s playing has improved despite these difficulties, and the five-year break he took from playing bass gave him a fresh perspective. Due to the type of music Newcombe plays, the heavier, darker rock that thrives on negative emotion, he has found himself in a renaissance in his music career because of the hardships he’s faced.

“You know, you would think my music career probably wouldn’t have been looking up as it is, and for some reason, I stopped playing bass for a while, got back into it, and I think I'm better than ever now. Doesn't seem to affect my playing at all or anything,” Newcombe said.

Newcombe’s friend, singer Matt Jankowski who he described as like a brother to him, is the one who asked him to step in to play bass in the band he was trying to get together, which would eventually become "The One Divided."

“I was like, alright, well, I'll try. I’ll probably be rusty for a while. And you know, after a couple of weeks, I was fine. I can do all kinds of things that I couldn't do before. I built my stamina back up, and I can do a lot more stuff now,” he said.

Ever since Newcombe was a teenager, playing bass and writing lyrics has been a major outlet for him to express more difficult feelings.

“Music is a getaway and also a way to express yourself and get a lot of rough emotions out, like anger and sadness and stuff, especially the louder music that The One Divided plays,” he said.

Newcombe credits the area of Big Rapids for being very inclusive when it comes to music, mentioning he has probably been in a band with just about everyone in the punk/metal scene over the years.

“Just about every musician around here, I’ve been in bands with or been friends with for a long time,” he said.

The scene has changed quite a bit since Newcombe began his musical journey.

“It used to be that there were many college house parties with live bands. I don't see that so much anymore,” he said. 

He suggests that other people going through dark times lean on the things that bring them joy, whether it’s music or another outlet, and that it’s never really too late to pursue, as someone who has found the high point of his music career with "The One Divided" later on in his life.

“If music is part of your life and you're struggling through other things you're trying to get through, sometimes that's all you need, something that can be there for you in your dark times,” he said.

Newcombe commented on the sheer power of music to help people through hard times, how certain songs and lyrics have the power to save lives, as well as how it allows you to leave your mark on the world, with music that will potentially last for centuries with your name on it.

“Music is very rewarding. And also to be able to record albums and everything and put music out and if it catches on, it could be around for hundreds of years,” he said.