John Sponarski has a reputation as one of Vancouver’s premier guitar players. He’s an in demand session player having both led his own groups and worked backing up artists like Aaron Pritchet and Ben Rogers. It’s under the guise of Johnny 99 however that he gets to take center stage. He sings and writes songs that sound like they’ve been around forever, perhaps he’s just a natural. The East Van tunesmith’s lyrics are rife with the type of loveable losers who populate the songs of his songwriting idols, like John Prine and Townes Van Zandt. These aren’t invented characters, mind you; they might be conveyed through a different persona now and again, but numbers such as the restless “Boots” and the world-weary “Bad Habits” are far from fictional. “The songs all come from personal experience,” Sponarski notes. When it comes to song-craft, experience is something of which Sponarski has plenty, from bashing out loud-and-snotty rockers in a high-school punk band to earning a degree in music. Before turning solo, he was one half of the stellar songwriting duo Portage and Main, which won much acclaim for its two albums of heartfelt roots-rock. Sponarski’s new material is just as solid, but it leans more toward traditional country. “Any time that I have a melody in my head, or an idea for a song, this is just how it comes out,” he says. Yup, definitely a natural.