Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Jonny Lang: Here's Jonny...

Jonny Lang
Jonny Lang Jonny Lang Jonny Lang (PHOTO: Simon Redley) Jonny Lang (PHOTO: Simon Redley)

Jon Gordon Langseth, Jr. You’ll know him as Jonny Lang. He looks about 15. He is very quiet, cool as a cucumber. But when he picks up that Fender Telecaster guitar and grabs a mike; boy oh boy, he changes into a wild thing and plays and sings like he’s been doing it for eight decades.

Like his very life depended on it. Perhaps at one time, it really did. I’ll let’ Johnny Lang explain about that later……………..I am sat in a trendy London hotel with this 32-year-old blues man, we both sip water and for once in more than thirty years of interviews, I really am thrilled to be meeting a guy whose music, voice and guitar playing I adore. I have done ever since I almost drove my car over a cliff on the Isle of Skye on my honeymoon, some 16 years ago, when a track from his stunning debut album came on and blew my mind.

We are here to discuss his first studio album for seven long years, “Fight For My Soul,” released here on 2nd September. It is quite simply a breathtaking musical triumph. His voice is on fire. The songs are astounding and yes; there is that blazing guitar. But it is not a blues axe fest by any means. More like brush strokes and the occasional incendiary blast, to let you know he can still cut it.

But the songs are King and they dictate what was needed on the track. If that was less guitar; so be it. It is far more contemporary R&B with a sizzling soul vocal, than it is a blues album. It has massive Stevie Wonder influence too.

He seems in person and sounds on this album, very content in his own skin. Having launched his own label and partnered with Concord in the USA and The Mascot Group - and their respected Provogue imprint for the European release - he is calling the shots. But with the marketing and distribution back-up to ensure people get to hear it. A criticism he has of his previous deals, apart from his debut in 1998.

Privately, Jonny is a happy man too. He is in a solid marriage, and has four young children. A four month old baby, one born in 2010 and twins aged six. One of the main reasons we have had to wait so long for a new JL CD! They are being home-schooled and he aims to take his family out on the road as much as he can, to avoid missing out on seeing his kids grow up.

Jonny himself had a short “normal” childhood, before he was catapulted to stardom. He was 12 when he began playing guitar. Had his own band soon after and cut his debut self-released album at 14. He was signed to A&M in 1996 aged just 16, and a year later his debut album went multi-Platinum.

He toured with the Stones, Sting and Aerosmith. In 1998 he released “Wander This World”, another big success which got a Grammy nomination.

In October 2003, he released “Long Time Coming,” and then in 2006, the gospel tinged “Turn Around,” which won him a Grammy. In 2009, his live album “Live At The Ryman” dropped.

Jonny’s fame spread globally and he got to perform for the President of the USA at the Whitehouse. But with so much success so young, Jonny eventually plunged into a spiral of self destruction and addiction to drink and drugs. Today he is stone cold sober, and can vividly remember the moment he almost died.

“I was at my house for New Year, and leading up to that week of the holidays, I went on a binge of various things and various substances; drink and drugs. That night of new years…in fact there was a couple of days there I don’t remember… I blacked out and when I woke up - I think it was the evening of the day after - I had been passed out for that entire amount of time.”

“When I woke up I could hardly move, and I really thought I was going to die. I got some energy from somewhere and literally crawled into the kitchen, and my room mate at the time took one look at me, and said, ‘do you want to go to the hospital?”

“I didn’t want to go to the hospital, because I didn’t want to hit the headlines. I just sort of tried to get food and water into me, but it took a good week to recover from that. That’s a real bad memory……” Jonny reveals he took cocaine, ecstasy, and as he says “unknown drugs that just happened to be around….whatever was around really.” He did not take heroin, but chillingly and honestly he tells me: “I would have done heroin if it was around.”

He added: “Being young it never really affected the shows, so I got away with it in that respect, and of course, it never made the news.”

He says he wished he had listened to the voice telling him when he should not do something, but he ignored them. Today as a devout Christian, he does listen to that voice and tells me he knows it is God speaking to him and guiding him. “You gotta listen to the doubts.”

So the title. Is this a direct reference to God’s fight for his soul or his battle with past demons? “Yeah. Maybe all of the above. It is a concept that is open for relating to each person on an individual basis. It is about the fight that comes when one has reached an age when we have to decide something. We all have things we have been conditioned with growing up, and some of them are good things that we take with us, and some are things that prevent us from finding our own identity. So those things can be the greatest struggle you ever face in life. A real fight for your soul.”

Talking of soul……………. Jonny’s vocals here are out and out soul with a capital S. The record store (what’s left of them!) staff will be scratching their heads as to where to file it. Retro R&B? Modern R&B? Blues? “The style of the music is how the musicians interpreted the songs. There’s very little steering of the players trying to control the direction of it. Everything was very natural and it happened from the soul.”

“It was about overcoming a bit of fear of holding back. I was kind of afraid I’d swing too hard and miss, and throw myself off balance. Then I’d be saying, ‘Uh oh. People who used to like our music are gone and now there are no new people.’ It’s just these insecure thoughts you have to ignore and find the courage to do it.”

“Having children was a part of that risk taking. When they are in the picture and you are sort of filtering life now through them; through the idea of who you are to them and who they are to you; it kind of makes everything else pale in comparison. One of those things that came into focus a lot more, was the thought that when I am on my death bed, I am not going to be saying how glad I am I didn’t take those chances that let me be myself. I am gonna be regretting most things.”

The difference between this and anything else he has done, is the strength of the song writing. It is a work of art. “Oh man, that’s just wonderful to hear. Thank you for saying that. I did work very hard on the songs. For much of the songs I had Tommy Sims (the producer) to lean on, for a lot of the song writing.”

“Tommy by himself is the master musician and songwriter. He could easily dominate the whole scenario and do it all himself. We did it as a co-production and most of songs are co-written by us. A lot of the songs I had had hanging round a long time, and never thought they’d ever fit on one of my albums. But he convinced me to finish them and put them on the record.”

His current mindset: “Excited about life. I am excited to see where it’s gonna go.” Back to the top for you my friend, with this wonderful career-defining piece of work. I do believe his soul is intact………...


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