TAKING UP THE ROLE OF BLUES GUITARIST PROFESSIONALLY SINCE HE WAS 15, LANG’S TRAJECTORY HAS CURVED INTO ADDING ELEMENTS OF R&B INTO HIS REPERTOIRE. HIS LATEST ALBUM, SIGNS, WHILE STILL THROWING PLENTY OF RED MEAT TO HIS GUITAR FANS, ALSO REFLECTS A MORE MUSICALLY MELODIC APPROACH.
NOT ONLY THAT, BUT HIS LYRICS REFLECT HIS DEEP CHRISTIAN FAITH, OFFERING HOPE IN A WORLD INSISTENT ON ANGER IN THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS.
WE RECENTLY CAUGHT UP WITH LANG, WHO JUST RETURNED FROM A MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR ONE OF HIS LIFE LONG MENTORS, HIS GRANDFATHER.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR GRANDFATHER?
My goodness, so many things. He was a farmer; just watching him do whatever it took to make things happen for his family. Working hard and just hustling; doing it all with so much grace.
He hardly ever sounded frustrated; he just worked hard and didn’t complain. That was a huge example to me. How could I do that all the time?!?
DID HE EVER GIVE YOU ANY ADVICE ON YOUR CAREER?
No. He really lead by example; he never told anyone what to do or how to do it.
CLASSIC NO-DAK AND MINNESOTA MENTALITY
It’s that “Minnesota Nice” right there.
“The technical aspect isn’t nearly as important to me anymore as is the intention and the motivation behind it.”
YOUR STYLE OF PLAYING HAS CHANGED A BIT OVER THE YEARS. HAS THAT BEEN A CONSCIOUS DECISION OR SIMPLY A GRADUAL EVOLUTION?
I would say that it’s more along the lines of an evolution, but also intentional. I just write songs and record them without trying to steer it at all. I try to kind of just let it happen. It usually turns out ok like that.
Every time that I try to control it or craft it a certain way, I tweak it and then it doesn’t turn out right. I don’t try to think my way through it anymore; I just let it happen.
WITH JAZZ GUITARISTS, THERE ARE ALWAYS MORE CHORDS TO LEARN, AS WELL AS SPEED. WITH ROCK, THERE’S ALWAYS FUSION, BUT WITH THE TRADITION OF THE BLUES, HOW DOES A GUITARIST IN THAT GENRE GROW IN HIS CRAFT?
Ultimately, I wouldn’t consider myself a “blues musician,” but it is a big part of what I do. It’s not necessarily getting deeper with the guitar playing thing; it depends on what aspect you’re talking about.
With the guitar, it’s more about listening to the old blues guys. That old Howlin’ Wolf stuff, BB King and Albert Collins all tend to be my biggest influences, but I’ve got too many musical influences to count.
DOES YOUR FAITH INFLUENCE YOUR WRITING?
Yes, it does. Just life itself inspires it.
It’s an intangible thing. Most of the time I can’t explain it, but I just let it happen. Songs will just start coming, but then there will be a season where there will just be nothing. I can’t conjure up one single thing, then all of a sudden it will turn back on and a bunch of songs come out. It’s weird!
HOW AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ARE YOUR SONGS?
Some of them are, at least partially. It’s kind of like I’ll start writing lyrics for a song with a certain intent or feeling. But, trying to follow that rabbit trail doesn’t always lead to something in the same context as which you started. It doesn’t always end the way you intended to finish it. It veers off and becomes several different things/.
Sometimes I even feel it’s not even important what it’s about, because people will listen to it and it will hit them the way it’s supposed to, and help them in the way it’s supposed to be helpful to them.
I think I just answered about 3 questions you didn’t ask! (laughs)
NO, IT’S LIKE TAKING A SOLO, YOU JUST TOOK AN EXTRA COUPLE CHORUSES
(laughs) That’s right!
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT OF DOING A GOSPEL ALBUM LIKE SISTER ROSETTA THARPE OR SOMETHiNG MORE MODERN?
Not yet, but that’s something that could easily take place in the future. I’m just not sure when.
ARE YOU INVOLVED IN THE MUSIC AT THE LOCAL CHURCH THAT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ATTENDS?
Not presently; we just kind of moved, so we’re in a whole new area. We haven’t been too long at the new church, but I have played in the past.
AS A MUSICIAN, IS IT HARD TO SUBJECTIVELY GET INTO THE WORSHIP MUSIC WITHOUT CRITIQUING IT?
A younger me would have been a lot more analytical without being able to help it (laughs). The technical aspect isn’t nearly as important to me anymore as is the intention and the motivation behind it. But, that’s really any music.
If the person’s up there, and they mean it, then I’m good with it.
IN RETROSPECT, HOW DO YOU SEE GOD’S HAND IN YOUR CAREER?
Just crazy “coincidences.” When I look back, it’s just like there’s this roller coaster that was not OSHA approved (laughs). I’ve never put it like that before! (laughs)
I just wonder how on earth did it stay on the tracks and not get thrown off. How did it work at all, given all of the things in life that happened to me. I think a lot of people get that perspective on life. The whole thing is an amazing miracle.
THEOLOGY IS RETROSPECTIVE; YOU SEE HIS GUIDANCE WHEN YOU LOOK BACK.
Yeah, you can’t identify it as a landmark when you’re going through
HAVE YOU EVER STOPPED TO THINK WHAT YOUR LIFE WOULD BE LIKE IF GOD HAD NOT INTERVENED-SORT OF LIKE WITH GEORGE BAILEY IN “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE”?
I definitely believe that if God hadn’t stepped in and revealed himself to me when he did…
I grew up in church and really didn’t care much for it. I didn’t know that you could have a relationship with God. That was the whole thing. When I discovered that God loves me, that changed my entire life. That’s still changing me to this day.
If I hadn’t had that moment when I realized that God loves me, I don’t know where I’d be. I might not even be around, actually. I was into some pretty heavy stuff.
WHICH BRINGS UP THE TOPICS OF YOUR SONGS. SOMETIMES YOU SING ABOUT EMPOWERMENT. DO YOU STRUGGLE WITH YOUR OWN ABILITIES AND POWER VERSUS THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IN MANY SENSES YOUR ALSO HELPLESSNESS IN GOD’S SIGHT?
I found a lot of peace in relinquishing things that didn’t do me a lot of good to hold onto anyway, as I’ve had no control over so much of my life. It’s fun to try to prop yourself up with the idea that you’re in control for awhile, but it doesn’t work in the long run.
I’m not the best at relinquishing control, but when I do it, I have a lot more peace in my life.
YOUR SONG SIGNS WAS ABOUT KEEPING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE. WIFE AND KIDS WILL DO THAT! WHAT ELSE HELPS YOU KEEP LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE?
Just being around people; travelling around and meeting different people from different places has really helped me see that nobody wakes up and says “I’m going to be a bad person today.”
People have issues; people have stuff, but the more I travel, the more that I can see that most people want to be loving and be a force of good in the world. It’s nice when you can travel around the world and come back with that view.
YOU TRY TO GIVE THAT MESSAGE BETWEEN SONGS AS WELL WHEN YOU ARE IN CONCERT. YOU TEND TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE WITH HOPE FROM THE STAGE.
A lot of the songs are weighted towards that. I kind of view what I do as having a goal to inspire people. Hopefully, some of what God has given me can rub off.
IT’S INTERESTING THAT WHILE YOUR SONGS ON YOUR MOST RECENT STUDIO ALBUMS, INCLUDING THIS ONE, ARE FAIRLY CONCISE, YOUR CONCERTS MIX THESE SONGS AS WELL AS CONTAINING MOMENTS OF LONG GUITAR SOLOS. IS THAT DUE TO BEING JUST CAUGHT UP IN THE MOMENT ON STAGE, OR ARE YOU CONCIOUSLY THROWING RED MEAT TO YOUR GUITAR FANS?
(laughs) It’s a bit of both. The music becomes a bit more guitar-centric in concert. It seems that way. The songs on records are pretty short, so in order to fill up two plus hours, you have to take some liberties.
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’D BE DOING FOR A CAREER IF YOU WEREN’T A GUITARIST?
Every time I try to think of that I immediately stop, ‘cause I get worried (laughs). I have no hope beyond singing and playing guitar.
I have no idea. I went half way through ninth grade, so I don’t know!
YOU’RE IN GOOD COMPANY. I ASKED JOHN MAYALL WHY HE’S STILL PLAYING IN HIS 80s, AND HE SAID THAT “THIS IS ALL I KNOW HOW TO DO.”
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE A MUSICIAN OR FAMILY MEMBER HAS GIVEN YOU?
I don’t recall anyone coming up and saying, “Hey, I’ve got some advice for you,” but the biggest thing I’ve taken away from people who have meant something to me, especially musicians, is just how they treat other people.
We’re all in this together, and just because somebody’s on stage or at a certain level of show biz that you want to sight, there’s no hierarchy. You’re no better; there’s no elitism thing. We’re all doing it together and we all have different gifts and abilities to help make the world better.
YEARS AGO, I ASKED JOHNNY RIVERS WHO THE BEST HOPES WERE FOR THE TRADITOIN OF CARRYING ON THE BLUES ROCKER BATON, AND HE MENTIONED YOU AND JOE BONAMASSA WITHOUT HESITATION.
No way! That is really awesome.
WHAT YOUNGER GUYS OUT THERE ON THE HORIZON GET YOUR ATTENTION?
There are so many out there, it’s crazy. I’m a little biased, because we’re buddies, but my favorite is Quinn Sullivan. He’s this freakishly gifted kid. Buddy Guy loves him and is helping him get started; he’s touring with Buddy right now.
He’s beyond belief, an unbelievable guitar player.
YOU’RE IN A GOOD STAGE IN LIFE WITH A WIFE AND FIVE KIDS AT 36. YOU SING ABOUT BEING AWARE OF CERTAIN TRAPS IN LIFE. WHAT DO YOU DO TO PREVENT YOURSELF FROM GETTING CAUGHT IN THEM AS WELL?
I’ll let you know when one pops up! (laughs) Seriously, being away from family is tough in a lot of ways. There’s no magic balancing act that you can just default to; you just have to roll with it every different day and see what that day brings you.
After going home/being on the road and going home/being on the road for years and years, we’ve got as much of a system as you could possibly have for keeping it together.
But, the secret is my wife; she holds the whole thing together.
DO YOU STILL TAKE HER OUT ON DATES?
Oh, yeah; grandma will come over and we’ll go out every now and then.
It doesn’t take much to make it work, but nobody wants to work it anymore.
NOW YOU’RE SOUNDING LIKE AN OLD BLUES PLAYER!! (both laugh)
WHILE ONLY IN HIS 30’S, JONNY LANG IS ALREADY REFLECTING THE SAGE WISDOM THAT COMES FROM A LIFE OF PLAYING THE BLUES. AS WITH ALL GREAT ARTISTS OF THE GENRE, HE’S DEALT WITH SIN AS WELL AS FORGIVENESS, AND HAS FOUGHT THE DEVIL AND BY THE GRACE OF GOD HAS WON THE BATTLE, ALWAYS AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO US ALL.
HE’S CURRENTLY TOURING AROUND WITH HIS LONG TIME BAND, AND SOUNDS AS INSPIRED AS EVER, ESPECIALLY WHEN ONE CONSIDERS THE WORD ‘INSPIRED’ ACTUALLY MEANS ‘GOD BREATHED.’ LANG’S LATEST MUSICAL DELIVERY GIVES HOPE FOR FANS OF THE BLUES LOOKING FOR HOPE FOR THEIR SOUL. ALWAYS A GOOD SIGN!