By Chris M. Junior
More than 16 years have passed since Jonny Lang’s breakthrough sophomore album, “Lie to Me,” was released around the time of his 16th birthday.
Since then, he has achieved platinum-album certifications, won a Grammy and been selected to be among the elite guitarists featured on the Experience Hendrix 2014 tour. Lang also has grown as a blues-influenced guitarist-singer, the proof of which can be heard on his latest studio album, “Fight for My Soul.”
GOLDMINE: What did teenage Jonny Lang’s bedroom look like? Was it a shrine to your guitar heroes, covered with posters?
JONNY LANG: That’s a great question, man. Nobody has ever asked me that. My bedroom consisted of a broken futon for a bed, a dresser, my little guitar amp and my guitar. So, no posters or anything like that, but I did have a CD player.
GM: Was there a particular song, sound or band that attracted you to the guitar?
JONNY LANG: Yeah. I would say initially there was that Stone Temple Pilots song “Plush.” That guitar intro really got me. I wanted to learn how to play that. But that was right at the same time my dad had taken me to see some friends of his who had a band. It was my first live concert. The tone of the guitar live was something that infected me (laughs). I thought, “I’ve gotta learn how to make that sound.”
GM: What was the make and model of your first guitar?
JONNY LANG: I had a 1980s Fender Squier Stratocaster that belonged to my older sister. Then my dad got me a ’62 reissue Stratocaster for my 13th or 14th birthday. I switched to Telecasters after I heard Albert Collins play. I wanted to sound like him.
GM: Early in your career, you toured with some rock ’n’ roll heavyweights, such as The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck and Aerosmith. Did you get a chance backstage to pick their brains for playing tips?
JONNY LANG: I never really wanted to ask guys like that tips on playing guitar. I wanted to be as little of a nuisance to them as possible (laughs). I didn’t want them to remember me as “that guy.”
GM: So did you study them from the side of the stage after you were done playing?
JONNY LANG: Absolutely. I really was enthralled with the way Jeff Beck uses his hands. Nobody else really manipulates the guitar like he does. He can bend strings to whatever pitch he wants; he’ll bend and then bend again to get a different note. It almost sounds like a slide guitar. So that’s something I incorporated into my playing, although not nearly as masterfully as he can do it (laughs).
GM: How careful are you with your hands day to day? Do you avoid or limit certain activities?
JONNY LANG: No. I’ve never given any thought to the protection of my hands (laughs). I mean, I’m not doing anything dangerous per se. I know there are a couple guys out there who wear gloves all the time, but I just never thought to do that. I guess I never had a reason to, but I guess once you’re given a reason to, it’s too late.
GM: Talk about your guitar approach on “Fight for My Soul” as compared to your previous albums.
JONNY LANG: I think the idea with guitar on this record was for it to be more a team player with all of the other elements, more so than past records. And I guess what I mean is maybe not so guitar solo-centric — try to create some different layers and have it be a part of the general atmosphere.
GM: You’re a veteran of the Experience Hendrix Tour. What does your involvement mean to you as a guitar player?
JONNY LANG: Janie, his sister, runs it with a couple other folks, so to be asked by the family is a pretty big honor. I’ll do it for as long as they ask me. Jimi is one of my heroes, and he’s meant so much to music in general and to the electric guitar.
GM: Is there an aspect of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing that you think gets overlooked?
JONNY LANG: There are so many intangibles with his guitar playing. His pocket and the way he phrases are so unique and so unmatchable. We’ve talked about it on the tour, how nobody’s really heard anybody else sound like him. You know, you can break out your wah-wah pedal and fuzz box and play the ‘Voodoo Chile’ intro or whatever, but nobody can really sound like him. There are a lot of people who can be emulated pretty accurately, but I never really heard anybody do that with Jimi Hendrix. GM