A rock and roll mainstay often loves seeing the cards fall where they may when creating his special brand of music.
By Steve Houk
Yep, it’s the stuff of rock and roll legend. The story goes that there stood a 12 year-old Jonny Lang, wowing friends and family on the front porch of a North Dakota lake house with his guitar by erupting into mindblowing versions of rock classics.
Then he stops, and launches into a stunning rendition of Jimi Hendrix‘ version of the National Anthem. Quite the monster roll for a 12 year old. You can just hear mouths fall agape. But even then, he was molding his future.
Almost three decades later, Jonny Lang is a musical success not only because of his superb guitar playing and songwriting, but also because he is often able to just let loose, let himself go, let things happen. And it’s those musicians who have influenced him over the years, including Hendrix, who Lang is indebted to for just that, for letting him be who he wants to be as a musician.
“Jimi Hendrix mostly is responsible for just showing me that you can be reckless and that’s okay,” Lang said before he took the stage at a festival in Washington state last week. “If that’s what comes naturally, you can be reckless and just not think about it, not have to craft a solo, you can just let it be this thing that’s happening in the moment. If you don’t land on your feet every time, it’s not a big deal. That’s part of the joy of it, and the first thing he reminds me of is that that’s okay.”
Since his ‘tween days wailing away on that porch, Lang has established himself as one of rock and roll’s most durable and talented musicians, with a Grammy to his credit, top charting records over a 25-plus year career, and a reputation for both blistering guitar work and beautifully crafted songwriting. Fittingly, he’s also appeared on the star studded “Experience Hendrix” tour a few times. And his latest record Signs is in some ways an ode to those like Hendrix who came before, with an unvarnished feel that Lang loves to convey with his music.
“I think I just kind of had the thought that whatever the songs end up being,” Lang said, “it would be nice to have some of them harken back a little bit in their production approach to some of the older, more raw-sounding records like, you know, Howlin’ Wolf stuff and all that great, good, unpolished kind of stuff. It wasn’t like I wanted to make an exact record like that, but it was the stuff I was listening to at the time and have been re-inspired by it, so I think a little bit of that spirit of that made it on the record, you know?”
And that kind of rawness, spontaneity and also a sense of camraderie and willingness to let his cohorts contribute their own vibe spread to the making of Signs.
“That’s my favorite part of the whole thing, is just sharing it with other people, and making it a joint effort,” Lang said. “I guess in the studio, what I mean is, not trying to steer every little thing into what I want. I love letting everybody just do what comes naturally and then after that if it needs a little nudge or something, do that. For the most part, we just went in the studio and had the sounds ready and just played the songs for the guys, acoustic guitar and let them do what they wanted with it and it developed into what it is now.
As well as loving when things evolve and come naturally when playing and recording, Lang is thrilled to just be making music for people who not only enjoy it, but have their lives inspired by it.
“I just love creating and playing music for people, and hopefully inspiring people too. Just being somebody who can bring music to them that will help them like it’s helped me in my life. I love it, and it doesn’t go too much deeper than that for me. I just think it can be so many different good things to different folks at so many different places in their lives. It can all come together at a concert and agree on this thing, but they each have a different experience. It’s amazing to me. Art is just amazing like that, so it’s cool to be able to be a part of stuff like that, you know?”
Jonny Lang with special guest Zane Carney performs August 20 at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305. For tickets, click here.