One For the road
All the perils of playing mountain top venues and the sanity-restoring joys of golf…
What was your first ever gig and how did it go? “It was at a sports bar in North Dakota near my hometown. I was scared and I don’t remember much of it, I just remember being frightened! I was 13, it was a blues band. I started taking guitar lessons from them and later they asked me to join as their singer.” Describe your current stage rig… “I’ve two Fender Deluxes and I take three guitars: a custom Fender Telecaster that I’ve played for years – it’s got humbuckers in it – a Les Paul and a Gibson J-45 acoustic. Then I use an overdrive pedal for most of the lead stuff, a Route 808, and a couple of pedals by a company called Jam: the Tube Dreamer and their wah wah which they call the Wahcko. I use a clean boost pedal made by Whirlwind called The Bomb and then an octave fuzz pedal called COB – Clean Octave Blend.” What piece of gear is most essential to your live sound? “The Deluxes. I could probably do without every other thing on my pedal board if I had to and just have the guitar and the amps. I’ve been through quite a few amps over the years: I used to play Vibro-Kings, which I still love and would probably use still, but they blow up!” What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour? “My golf clubs keep me sane out here – I’m a golf addict. As often as I can I try to get out and sneak in as much golf as I can. I just love it and it’s very cathartic thing for me to do, so it helps me just recharge for some reason.” What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour? “I’ve actually had all of the Spinal Tap moments, I think [laughs]. I’ve announced the wrong city – ‘Hello Cleveland!’ – to the point I don’t do that any more. I won’t say the city even if I’m positive I know what city I’m in. I’ve got lost backstage at some of the big venues; it’s like a rats’ maze and you get lost. That’s why musicians love [the movie] because they’ve been through it all.” What’s on your rider? “We don’t have much… peanut butter and jelly, sodas, chips and salsa. For some reason there’s this awful bowl of candy that keeps reappearing, I don’t know why.” What’s the best venue you’ve played in and why? “There’s so many ties for first, but I’ll cite Glastonbury as one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had playing music. We got to play three years ago and it was just great. When you’re there it’s just a sea of people and they’re just bouncing from stage to stage hoping to hear something they like and they’ll stay if they like it. It was neat starting with nobody in the tent and people just kept on coming. It was neat being discovered by people.” What’s the worst journey you’ve had? “Oh, man there’s been some good ones. There’s a winery that we play in California. It’s on the top of this mountain and they didn’t build the road with buses and trucks in mind. The bus drivers have to do all sorts of corrections and we had the back wheels of the bus hanging off the side of the mountain at one point. But the driver didn’t tell us until after, so that was pretty treacherous.” What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you on tour? “The whole thing’s weird! [laughs] We got to go out and play in front of Aerosmith in my home town of Minneapolis, Minnesota so I was all excited. I used to not wear shoes on stage, which proved to be unwise. I think something spilled on the stage and I just slipped. But is was like from a movie; I flew up in the air and landed on my back right in the middle of a guitar solo in front of 20,000
people! Embarrassing… it was just weird how it happened; it just seemed like somebody grabbed me and threw me down to the ground and I was not expecting it.”
What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?
“[Laughs] Give them a lot of money, that’ll do it! I don’t know, just being honest and sincere and heartfelt about what you’re doing – I think that’s a good way to get an audience on your side. I think that’s why we love music. We love to connect with human beings doing some sort of art with passion.”
What’s your tip for good live sound?
“Experience. You’re at the mercy of the conditions at that particular venue, so every show is different. The variables change every day and being able to acclimate to them and just embrace them. I’ve learned that if you just embrace that: ‘Okay, it doesn’t sound good, but I’m going to play anyway and make the best out of it,’ that’s kind of the key to it.”
How do you warm up before a gig?
“Just some simple vocal warm-ups and I warm down afterwards. I play guitar, too. Nothing in particular, just play guitar 15/20 minutes beforehand, get the muscles warmed up.”
What’s your favourite live album?
“Oh man, that’s hard. There’s a James Taylor record from the early 90s [1993’s Live] and Donny Hathaway Live. Those are my two favourite live records. I’m a huge James Taylor fan; he’s my biggest inspiration. The Donny Hathaway record sounds unbelievable; his performance is just legendary. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.”
“I just slipped on the stage. I flew up in the air and landed on my back right in the middle of a guitar solo in front of 20,000 Aerosmith fans”
Jonny and his custom Tele have come far since his debut at 13 years old