3/9/18: Jonny Lang “Breakin’ Me”
You know how at the end of “Blues Brother 2000” they have this huge ensemble number with about a hundred musicians participating in a rock n’ roll song, each one singing or playing a line or a bar (or two) as the credits roll? The first time I ever heard Jonny Lang was during that extravaganza.
The song was rockin’ along, and then all of a sudden there was this little blonde-haired guy who starts belting out his lines, putting every ounce of his energy into it. He was clearly young, but his voice and expression were strongly reminiscent of a blues veteran over twice his age. I was blown away by the voice coming out of that kid, I just had to figure out who he was. I watched the credits and then did a little research… his name was Jonny Lang. I’d never heard of him before, but I knew that I wanted to hear more of him! So, I became a fan of this talented young blues rocker when he was about 15. He’s 37 years old now, and I’ve actually been to a couple of his shows!
Jonny Lang was born Jon Gordon Langseth, Jr. in Fargo, North Dakota. He started playing guitar when he was just 12, and when his father took him to see the Bad Medicine Blues Band, young Jonny was hooked. I don’t imagine there were too many blues bands out there in North Dakota to join, and in a few months Jonny was actually invited to join up with Bad Medicine, and together they changed the band name to Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Bang. Jonny and the band released an album called “Smokin’” when he was only 14. By around age 15, Lang was spotted in a talent showcase in Minnesota by someone connected to A&M records. Suddenly, Jonny Lang was part of a surprising group of young, white blonde-haired and blue-eyed blues players… a group that included Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Dereck Trucks!
In 1997, Jonny made a blues album called “Lie to Me.” He was only fifteen years old, and the album went platinum and ranked #1 on Billboard’s New Artist chart. I have it on CD, and it’s an outstanding piece of work. At 17, he came out with “Wander This World,” which was even better and actually earned a Grammy nomination! I’ve probably listened to both cover to cover a hundred times… he’s released several albums since, but his first two efforts remain my favorites. Jonny says he can’t even listen to them anymore — that it’s like “going back and looking at your high school yearbook or something.” I even read somewhere that in those early days, he used to perform on stage shoeless (because “it feels good”) but he gave up that practice after some near-accidents and electrical shocks!
Jonny is popular and well-respected by a lot of famous artists. He’s played with and performed alongside some big names, like Buddy Guy and B.B. King. He’s got plenty of rock and roll cred too, having shared the stage and studio with The Rollings Stones, Aerosmith, Jeff Beck and Sting. Back in 1999, Lang even played the White House, for President Bill Clinton! For years, he’s been a regular part of Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads Guitar Festival,” and also the “Experience Hendrix” tour.
The song that’s in my head today comes off the “Wander This World” album, and it doesn’t sound a whole lot like most of Jonny’s stuff. It’s got a more mellow vibe, and it’s even a little sad. You can still hear his phenomenal guitar work, but this time it’s acoustic! His voice still sounds like it’s coming from a much older soul, someone who’s experienced real heartache. The song is called “Breakin’ Me,” and it’s the music in my head today.