John Wheatcroft ex­am­ines the im­pres­sive style of mod­ern blues phe­nom­e­non, Jonny Lang.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

Gui­tarist, singer and song­writer Jonny Lang has en­joyed a ca­reer ap­proach­ing two decades, with five al­bums in the Bill­board top 50, a Grammy on his mantle­piece, and a cameo in The Blues Broth­ers 2000 movie. Add to this a re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful tour­ing and record­ing sched­ule both as a solo artist, shar­ing stages with leg­ends such as The Rolling Stones, Aero­smith, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, BB King and St­ing, and also as a reg­u­lar mem­ber of the Ex­pe­ri­ence Hen­drix tour­ing line-up. While these are un­de­ni­ably sig­nif­i­cant achiev­ments, what’s even more im­pres­sive is the fact that that he’s still just 33!

Jonny be­gan play­ing at age 12 and lit­er­ally hit the road run­ning, record­ing his first in­de­pen­dently re­leased al­bum, Smokin’ aged just 14, with his ma­jor la­bel de­but fol­low­ing a year or so later. Lang’s play­ing, and per­haps even more im­pres­sively his singing, pos­sessed a ma­tu­rity, au­then­tic­ity and so­phis­ti­ca­tion far be­yond his years. From that point un­til this he has re­leased a steady stream of re­leases, toured re­lent­lessly and de­vel­oped a voice as a solid and se­cure song­writer, and con­tin­ued to progress as one of the most in­ter­est­ing con­tem­po­rary mu­si­cians on the scene to­day.

Not con­tent to re­strict his mu­sic purely to the blues-rock id­iom, Lang’s sound is equally in­spired by Mo­town, soul and R&B; even con­tem­pory pop artists such as Prince and Michael Jack­son con­tinue to colour his sound. But it’s as a gui­tar player that his blues and rock roots truly come into the fore­ground. His play­ing is en­er­getic, ex­cit­ing and hugely ex­pres­sive and dy­namic, with great tone and phras­ing to boot. Jonny sounds like a real ‘seat of the pants’ player, al­ways in the mo­ment and spon­ta­neously cre­at­ing ideas on the spot rather than trot­ting out a collection of pre­con­ceived and metic­u­lously prac­ticed licks and lines night af­ter night. No, Jonny is re­ally pre­pared to walk the im­pro­vi­sa­tional tighrope, tak­ing chances along the way - and his play­ing sounds all the more ex­cit­ing and im­pres­sive for it.

There are five ex­am­ples for your delec­ta­tion this month and, as al­ways, these are the tip of the ice­berg in terms of what Jonny is ca­pa­ble of but serve as in­tro­duc­tory il­lus­tra­tions of the in­ner work­ing of his phras­ing, note se­lec­tion, con­cep­tual ap­proaces and ideas.

In the study of lan­guage it is com­mon to con­sider any phrase from both a sur­face and a deep struc­ture level, with ‘deep’ re­lat­ing to the im­pulse or in­ten­tion and ‘sur­face’ re­lat­ing to the method em­ployed to re­alise this goal, util­is­ing a re­mark­ble de­vice known as ‘trans­for­ma­tional gram­mar’.

The mu­si­cal par­al­lel could be con­sid­ered in terms of con­cepts and ideas form­ing the ‘deep’ struc­ture re­lat­ing to spe­cific mu­si­cal phrases and licks; and the ‘sur­face’, where any such un­der­ly­ing theme or de­vice can be ex­pressed in an in­fi­nite num­ber of ways by em­ploy­ing trans­for­ma­tions in phras­ing, note place­ment, se­lec­tion and such­like. With this in mind, be sure to live with each ex­am­ple for a while and aim to cre­ate your own vari­a­tions on a theme, aim­ing to ini­tialise any spe­cific mu­si­cal con­cepts and de­vices that take your fancy along the way!

Just be­cause I’ve been able to play with great mu­si­cians my whole life, the learn­ing curve was a lot steeper.

Jonny Lang

Jonny Lang: the pre­co­cious kid is now the real deal

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