By Peter Sloggatt
Listen to Jonny Lang’s new album, “Signs,” and you might hear some funk, some synth, a whole lot of blues, and even a hint of Stevie Wonder. But mostly you’ll hear Jonny Lang.
The recently released “Signs” is the ninth album for the blues impresario who first showed up on blues fans’ radars when he was a teenager. Nearly a quarter-century and numerous several platinum records later he’s a Grammy-winning veteran performer with a worldwide following. What he isn’t, just yet, is a household name.
Lang’s followers are a cult of insiders -- fans who appreciate his killer guitar rooted in the blues tradition with the footprints of contemporary innovation across the soundtracks. Lang was 13 when he first picked up a guitar. Within two years he was playing professionally with the likes of Buddy Guy. But don’t call Lang a prodigy. While he had natural ability, his guitar chops were earned through incessant practice.
“I played all day, every day, trying to learn every lick of every song,” Lang said in an interview last week from the road on his worldwide tour in support of the new album. “I would sit by myself and play records and learn everything I could.” His first mentor, Ted Larsen, gave him a spot in his band Bad Medicine, which soon would later play gigs as Jonny Lang and the Big Bang.
Lang’s first solo album, 1997’s “Lie To Me,” went platinum and landed him at the top of Billboard’s New Artist chart. His first Grammy nomination came at 17 for the album “Wander This World.”
Lang’s early albums reflect a kinship with those at blues’ roots: Robert Johnson and the gravel-voiced Howlin’ Wolf . Later explorations brought contemporary sounds, in particular, synth sounds.
“Stevie Wonder is my biggest influence in general,” Lang said. “It’s like he’s a gateway to all music. There are aspects of music we wouldn’t have got otherwise, like his use of synthesizers. I think he looked at the synthesizer like an instrument that could take you into the places in his mind the way nothing else could.”
While he acknowledges the influences, Lang hopes his music is his own expression. On the new album, “I’m proud of it as a songwriter. I had a lot of really great moments of ‘I’m doing something for me’,” he said. “I had a real sense of accomplishment, of constantly moving forward.”
To Lang, moving forward is what it’s all about.
“I tend to pay more attention to the journey, so much that I sometimes don’t remember the point I was trying to get to,” he said.
Fans can join Lang on the journey Thursday, Oct. 19 when he brings the tour to The Paramount. Tickets are $25-$88 at the box office, or at Paramountny.com.