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FEATURES -- Jonny Lang Interview
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Jonny Lang on Chicago and the Blues

The former wunderkind is now a husband and father who still loves to come to Chicago to hear and play the blues

By Eric Schelkopf

Photos: Jennifer Wheeler

Jonny Lang

Jonny Lang may hail from Fargo, North Dakota, but he is quickly making Chicago his second home.  Born in 1981, Lang started playing guitar at age 12 and joined a professional blues band shortly thereafter. At age 15 he signed with A&M Records, after moving to Minneapolis. Since then, the singer, songwriter, guitarist and bandleader has gone on to win a Grammy (for his gospel-influenced 2006 album Turn Around), and to play at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton in 1999. He appeared in the film Blues Brothers 2000 and performed for two of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals (2004 and 2010).

The 29-year-old guitar slinger jammed with Buddy Guy and Ron Wood at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in June, recently performed at Naperville's Ribfest and will play a headlining show at the House of Blues in Chicago on July 16, 2010.

I was able to catch up with Lang before he took the stage at Ribfest on July 1.

You are certainly making your presence known in the area. How was it jamming with Buddy Guy and Ron Wood at Crossroads?

It was a blast. It was super fun.

 

Would you say your music is influenced by Chicago blues?

Oh, absolutely. My guitar playing is really influenced by a lot of the artists that have come out of Chicago, especially Buddy Guy. Getting to play with him over the years has really influenced my playing a lot.

Jonny Lang wails on guitar

How would you say it has?

The thing about Buddy's playing is how he is not afraid to be totally reckless. That's the best way to explain his style. It is barely controlled recklessness. It's just raw emotion. I've never seen anybody get up with Buddy and quite be able to edge him out energy wise.

 

I understand you were also able to check out the new location of Buddy Guy's club, Legends. How is it compared to the old club?

It's cool. I really enjoyed it. There's a lot more room. I have fond memories of the old place. I was worried that it would be too big and too corporate, but it wasn't at all. It still felt homey.

 

You recently released your first live CD, Live At The Ryman. Was this just the right time to do a live CD?

I think it was. I've been wanting to do one for years. Timing wise, it's kind of a bridge between our last record (2006's Turn Around) and hopefully the next one.

 

This is the first record you've released since 2006. Why the break?

I don't know. Albums are weird things. Every one is kind of a different journey. In regards to the creative process on this one, it's taking a little bit longer. But also, just in my personal life, I had kids shortly after that album came out. The last few years have been kind of a whirlwind, trying to balance family and career and all that kind of stuff. Making an album, for the first time in my life, has been on the back burner.

 

You started in the business in your teens. Looking back, do you think it was good that you started at such a young age?

I'm real happy with being able to start early. To be 29 and have six albums under my belt is a great feeling. I'm sure there's plenty of things that I missed out on in my childhood, but it's just kind of a matter of where life takes you.

 

It seems like your summer is starting out with a lot of dates. Is that where you love to be, on the road?

I love playing live. It's my favorite thing. I feel fortunate to be able to work this much. I'm just trying to take work while it's there.

Jonny Lang colored lights

 

There's a lot of blues purists out there that might not consider you a true blues artist until you are over 60. But it has been said that you possess the voice of a blues veteran. Do you think you have the credentials to be a blues veteran?

I don't know. I don't know if I have ever been a true blues artist. I look at guys like Buddy, and I don't necessarily see myself in the same league. I see myself as somebody who really loves music in general, although tons of my influences are blues artists.

I didn't grow up really poor, or have all that much to sing the blues about. I've had a pretty great life full of opportunities. As far as a genre and style of music, yeah, I'm probably a blues guitar player.

 

Have you had people come up to you and say that they've discovered Buddy Guy because of you? Have people been turned on to the blues because of you?

Yeah, I think so. I've had people say that. And what a great compliment that is, just to be able to make younger kids aware of people like that.

 

Lang, along with openers Moreland & Arbuckle, will play at 9 p.m. July 16 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn Ave., Chicago.

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