Blues Guitarist Jonny Lang is a Prodigy With an Old Soul

Jonny Lang plays the blues.
Jonny Lang plays the blues. Daniella Hovsepian
Veteran American blues guitarist-vocalist Jonny Lang never goes into the making of an album with preconceived notions about what type of album he wants to produce. He would rather let the band, process, and vibes lead him down whatever path feels right.

This laid-back style, while not for everyone, has served Lang well for the past three-plus decades as a wily blues veteran who plays with an old soul that begets his 37 years. Lang, a native of Fargo, North Dakota, began making records at the precocious age of 14, meaning that been making some of this generation’s most serious blues music for three-fourths of his life.

“I figured out for me, if I try to control the process consciously, have my hands on every little microscopic thing, it just doesn’t work out for me,” Lang acknowledges. “I guess I just ride those little moments of inspiration and just try to tie them all together, and let it just happen. So, having a band you are friends with and you can play with and make great music is a part of that.”

Lang recorded his first album Smokin’ in 1995 with members of the first band he saw perform, Bad Medicine Blues Band. They changed their name to Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Bang once the young upstart took control just two years after the youngster had first picked up a guitar.

Before his 16th birthday, his sophomore effort, Lie to Me, landed him at No. 40 on the Billboard albums chart in 1997. Lang’s next six albums would follow him onto the charts, from rock to blues to gospel.

On Wander This World All in 1998, Lang delivered wicked guitar licks and thick smoky blues vocals. The music world began to sit up and take notice as the LP climbed to No. 28 on the charts. His 2003 album, Long Time Coming, which had more rock elements to it, followed, and saw him work with special guest Steven Tyler on harmonica on the album cut “Happiness and Misery.”

Before long, however, Lang had become acquainted with the dark side of being a bluesman, as his drinking and drug use was becoming a problem. By 2000, he had an epiphany of sorts.

“I just had this encounter with God that basically changed my life,” Lang admits. “And a lot of life has happened since then, too. As anybody who grows older knows, stuff just keeps coming and learning lessons. It just sent me on a different set of rails.”

By 2006, Lang had turned around. He saw his album Turn Around climb not only the Billboard Top 200 at 35, but hit No. 1 on the Gospel chart, led by the awe-inspiring pew-shaker “Thankful," and won the artist a Grammy.

Married in 2001 and now a family man with five children, Lang calls Los Angeles home when not on tour. While he has played with many of the greats in the biz, such as Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Lee Rintenour, and Eric Clapton, Lang is presently touring with American Blues legend Buddy Guy.

“For me it’s just an honor to play with him still, just because what he’s been through,” says Lang, who cut his music teeth listening to the likes of Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf. “Being on the same stage as him as a musician is a really cool honor. Of the stuff I’ve learned from him, is, he never gives up. He still gives it his all every show, at his age. He’s so kind to younger people, trying to get younger folks into music.”

And now Lang, who was both a young fan and prodigy, hopes to do the same.

Jonny Lang. With Buddy Guy. 8 p.m. Friday, August 17, at Celebrity Theatre, 440 North 32nd Street. Tickets are $45-$100 at
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Mark C. Horn
Contact: Mark C. Horn