Known as an American blues, gospel and rock and roll artist, Jonny Lang’s career started when he was 14 years old, with the independent release of the album with his first band, Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Bang’s album, Smokin’, in 1995. His unusual voice brought comparisons to that of 40 year old blues veterans and his guitar playing skills were often compared to Blues greats such as Buddy Guy, who he soon found himself performing with, along with other well known artists such as BB King, Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, and Steven Tyler. A musical prodigy, Jonny quit school and focused his entire life to his music and as of now he has made 7 albums (5 of which charted in the top 50 of the Billboard 200 chart), made 20 plus guest appearances on top recording artists’ albums, made countless performances, and received a Grammy Award for the album Turn Around. Not bad for a skinny kid from Fargo, North Dakota.
Until his fourth album, Jonny’s music was mainly blues focused and his life had no focus, other than music. While this seemed enough for a young man who came into manhood this way, his life changed dramatically with a Road to Damascus type of spiritual experience, a face to face with God, a reckoning of choices, and a decision to live differently. “That’s something that I try to make the focus of my life.” He says, his speaking voice is surprising with its sweet tones of wonder and welcome, so unlike his singing voice, which ranges from the deepest point of the soul to the highest point of a breaking heart, showing a passion for life only a man of a lifelong sophistication could carry in his heart, which has been his sound since day one. “I feel like my relationship with God is the very thing that inspires me and keeps all of this making sense. I feel like I am able to give a little bit more than what I am able to give on my own. If I can have that relationship the main thing that is done is keeping that focus on people… on making the music a blessing to people, not much matters beyond that.”
His music reflected this change in his focus immediately, including in the album Long Time Coming and every album after that, quickly gaining acknowledgement by the Christian music industry. This was not Jonny’s intention. His intention was to just make music. “It was funny,” he said, “even though my spiritual beliefs are what you would consider as Christian, it was funny to me that they were placed as, in particular the Turn Around album, that category. For me it was like, another record, you know. I mean I was putting more emphasis on spirituality, but it was just another album…”
To Jonny, music was never just music. It was everything. Now all of that has changed. It’s more than the physical thrums and drums of beating hearts on a sweet guitar riff, more than the thrill of a crowd singing his lyrics with him. Now it holds the opportunity of not just feeling the high of a guitar solo flying you to the center of that hot sun until your heart bursts with love or hate or whatever it is that you could not hold onto anymore and then landing you back to earth, now that flight has a message. And that message is one of more than what we have here on earth. It’s of love and hope, a message that there is more out there than what we are told, there is real love, real hope. Of course he would love to sell a ton of records and experience all that comes with that success, but what it really comes down to for him is that it is a wonderful life just to be able to play his own music for a living. “Beyond that to be able to have your music maybe inspire someone along the way, that’s awesome.”
We all draw inspiration from those who have gone before us and Jonny is no different. While he claimed that it is difficult to choose, the two albums that hold the most inspiration for him musically are Stevie Wonder’s Music on My Mind, and James Taylor’s Hourglass. The soul and funk of Stevie Wonder and folksiness of James Taylor is prevalent throughout Jonny’s album, Fight for My Soul, just released September 2013. An album that boasts songs with layers of sound including a gospel choir, electric guitar, lyrics, piano, percussion, and stories of the heart and soul.
As with all of his music, Jonny did not have a specific plan or goal for Fight for My Soul. “I was just in that place. Every time I make a record, I don’t go into it with a goal that I have in mind. There’s nothing that I’m going for really… I sort of like to take people and let them be a part of the creation process, too. The sound is just not given any thought. A lot of the songs are intricate and that’s purposefully done. I wanted the sound to be more complex.” And he did this by throwing his idea on the table and allowing his band to pull and push and mold just as much as he did.
He’s just now starting to write his next album, “I feel like going in a more raw direction… tipping the hat to Tom Waits. I don’t know what the songs are going to be like… it’s hard to tell until you get done cutting the songs.” Harder, rougher, looser, and not blues, this should be an interesting sound for Jonny to attempt. With his old soul voice and sharp guitar skills, this sound won’t be a far reach, although one has to ponder the ability to reach the darkness that Tom Waits wraps himself in, a darkness that only seems to have room for the sad, the lonely, the desperate, and the political.
Jonny Lang is coming to Sacramento, CA on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. It is recommended you see the show. Guitar solos with vibratos are guaranteed, if not a life altering view point.
To learn more or to buy tickets visit www.jonnylang.com
Words.Vanessa C Salazar