Finding fashion for Rascal Flatts

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Tricia Despres/Special to the Gazette
June 13, 2009

It usually only takes a matter of moments for students visiting the office of Milton High School Activities Secretary Bonnie Murphy to notice the framed picture on the file cabinet.

“They first can’t believe it’s really Rascal Flatts, and they find it even harder to believe that it’s me standing with them,” Bonnie said with a gentle laugh. “I try to keep it simple and explain that my son works with them. I usually get a little scream from the girls.”

In fact, Bonnie and Bob Murphy’s son John Murphy has worked as the full-time fashion stylist for the reigning Academy of Country Music Vocal Group of the Year for the past four years. Born and raised in Milton, Murphy is on tour with the band, including a stop at the Apple River Country Splash in Somerset on June 20.

“We don’t brag about it,” Bonnie said. “We might have had the chance to meet some famous people because of what our son does for a living, but we are, and always will be, just some little country people from Milton.”

John was 17 when he packed a suitcase and waved goodbye to Milton to pursue a pre-med degree from the University of Minnesota. After dropping out of college at the end of his junior year, he took a job at the Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson. Shortly after, a fellow bartender introduced John to his cousin, Trish Townsend, who was working as a stylist in Nashville. John decided to head to Nashville, where his life was forever changed.

John’s first job in Nashville was as a stylist assistant on a Garth Brooks video. While the video was never released, John made professional connections.

Soon, John made his way to Los Angeles and was booked through the Fred Segal Beauty agency to work on wardrobe jobs. While there, John not only worked with country stars but movie stars such as Sharon Stone.

“While in L.A., I worked with Planet Hope, a charity for homeless women and their children that was created by Sharon and (her sister) Kelly Stone,” John said. “For two years, I planned a four-day camp where we would give the kids school clothes and have doctors and dentists come for checkups. It eventually led me to working with Sharon for a few events.”

As fate would have it, John dressed the members of Rascal Flatts when they had shoots and appearances on the West Coast. Rascal Flatts management called John in 2005 to see if he could join them on the road full time.

Because he travels so much, John appreciates his hometown.

“Coming home means more to me now than ever before,” said John, who lived in Los Angeles and Philadelphia before making Nashville his permanent home two years ago. “It’s a simpler life in Milton—a slower pace. It’s a place I liked growing up but a place I now truly treasure.”

John’s fashion sense started to come through when he was a youngster who often shopped for old business suits at the local Goodwill shop and dressing up for school.

“I always loved fashion,” John said. “I mean, as a fifth-grader, I was the one who would come in a long-sleeved shirt and tie for school pictures.”

As a student at Milton High School, John was involved in everything from show choir to Spanish Club to National Honor Society. Summers included life-guarding and serving up treats at the Karmelkorn in the Janesville Mall.

“I really enjoyed growing up in Milton,” John said. “Practically my whole family could be found within an hour of Milton back then. I actually think I was related to half the town. But I always knew there was something more out there for me.”

John still makes a special effort to visit family and friends in Milton when the band is in the area and especially around holidays.

“Fourth of July is one of those holidays that I try not to miss,” said John, who has also worked styling country stars such as Sara Evans, Jo Dee Messina and Brad Paisley. “My Dad always marches in the parade with the American flag, and everyone comes over to the house once the parade is over. You really never know who might show up.”

“John is the same guy who left here,” said Bonnie, who has worked in the Milton School District for more than 25 years. “He is still as funny and down to earth as he has always been. He has kept a wonderful head on his shoulders, which I am so proud of.”

Keeping the boys of Rascal Flatts looking good is John’s main job these days. In addition to selecting outfits for concerts, John comes up with all of the clothes and accessories for the group’s special appearances.

“I do a lot of shopping in L.A. and New York for their clothes and accessories, and this year I have been working closely with the American Living brand,” John said.

“Everything ultimately needs to be tailored and steamed. I’ve also been known to add some ‘bling’ to Gary’s jeans and shirts,” he said of the band’s lead singer, Gary Levox.

John said he feels fortunate to have found a job he loves with such a wonderful group of people.

“They are such a good group of guys who love their families and love making music,” John said. “The relationship I have with them and my family back in Milton is something I truly treasure.”

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