Q&A: Jonny Lang
Regardless of which way Jonny Lang's songwriting takes him, the one constant that always figures to remain in place is his exquisite and thoroughly dynamic style of guitar playing.
When Jonny Lang burst upon the national music scene with his debut album, Lie to Me, in January 1997, he was praised as part of a new breed of young blues guitarists. While his peers at the time followed seemingly more narrow and focused directions (Kenny Wayne Shepherd went down a Texas-blues path, while Derek Trucks was influenced by Delta Blues and the southern rock of his uncle’s band, The Allman Brothers), Lang’s influences were a bit broader. Born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota, before coming up through the Minneapolis scene, he infused more soul and R&B, as well as touches of gospel, into his take on Chicago and Kansas City blues.
Lang’s sophomore album, Wander This World (1998), continued to simultaneously develop his blues roots and R&B leanings, creating a more mature and diverse album. By the time he released Turn Around (2003), his Christian conversion had drawn the previously underlying gospel influences to the forefront, and he won a Grammy for best gospel album.
Over the past 22 years, Lang has continued to develop as a respected artist within the blues community while continually evolving and incorporating influences from other genres. Equally comfortable headlining a blues festival or playing in front of a rock or soul crowd, Lang’s experience and growth as a player from near constant touring have won him the respect of his peers as well as fans.
Q. You’re wrapping up a run with the Experience Hendrix tour. How did you get involved and what have you taken from it?
A. Well, it’s not an every year thing. I think it’s maybe every other year and I haven’t been on all of the tours, but I’ve been lucky enough to go out with them multiple times. It’s just a cool thing and an honor to be a part of. I got invited to be a part of it by the Hendrix family, and when they asked, I had a hard time saying no. After all, Jimi’s playing has meant so much to me as a fan and a guitarist. Not to mention, I get to see some insane guitar players up close and watch from the side of the stage. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
As far as what I’ve gotten from it, I think it’s been an opportunity to glean something from all of these guitarists where we’re all different, but still all connect over the music. It’s been a great experience all-around for me.
Q. As you and Shepherd came up around the same time at a young age, did that create something of a friendly rivalry or a certain kind of kinship?
A. I think a lot of people would have loved for us to be rivals, but that wasn’t the case. Kenny is a great guy, and he has a great family. If I’m going to be linked to someone, it’s cool to be thought of in the same class as someone like Kenny.
I remember the day I first met him. We didn’t know each other, and it was lined up for a guitar magazine to do a photo shoot together; we were thrown together on the rooftop of a guitar shop. We were both young and hadn’t met, so it was kind of awkward, and I don’t think either of us knew what to expect. Initially, he was just like “Hey,” and I said “Hey.” Once we both relaxed, we got along pretty well. It’s still funny to look back on, though.
Q. With the latest album, Signs (2017), there’s a little more Delta blues and rock incorporated. What do you draw from when writing and developing your sound?
A. There are so many styles of music that I like, and I’m into, that I don’t think about it when I’m writing or playing. I don’t consciously think or say, “Now I’m going to write a blues song or a soul song, or whatever.” I don’t necessarily look to anyone or anything that I’m trying to emulate.
I don’t consider it too much. I don’t think or see it on those terms. To me, it’s kind of like people taking pictures, and trying to determine what it is after.
I feel like when I’m recording, it’s just that moment in my life, as a picture. If I catch some cool moments, then it all comes out that way as a part of where I’m at at that time.
Q. What does your summer and near future look like? Is it just more touring, or do you have new music on the way?
A. We’ve got our immediate schedule laid out, so once I wrap up the Hendrix tour, I play a few shows then we go to Europe for a little while and then the summer is full with live shows.
I’m always writing, but I haven’t felt the nudge yet to go into the studio to record. Usually, I’ll keep writing, and at some point, I’ll feel like “Yeah, now’s the time.”
Q. Since your sound and playing cross so many genres, what are you currently listening to, or who are some of your favorite artists?
A. Over the last month, I haven’t been listening to any music. I go away from it for a while and come back. Before that, I was listening to a lot of Lalah Hathaway. And there’s always James Taylor and Stevie Wonder in the mix.
Q. Who’s on your bucket list to work with?
A. That’s a hard one. I’ve been fortunate and gotten to work with so many people. If I had to pick someone, though, James Taylor. He’s such a good songwriter, and everything he does is timeless.
The Joint: Tulsa | Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa
777 W. Cherokee St. | Catoosa
May 9: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend
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