Jonny Be Good
JONNY LANG COMES TO THE NORTH STATE
Electric blues rocker Jonny Lang is now a born-again Christian.
About a decade ago, he faced a crossroads in his music career and personal life.
Too much drinking, cigarette smoking and drugs threatened to ruin his career and create havoc in his personal life. “It’s real easy to get distracted with peripheral things, when you’re young and you feel like you’re being carried a little bit with the weight of responsibilities, business and other things,” says Lang, who will appear in Redding and Chico this month. “You’re just living a dream. Somewhere down the line the added pressures hit you. The infatuation stage runs its course.”
Signed to A&M Records at the age of 15, he burst onto the mainstream music scene, capturing critical acclaim and immediate attention from fans while shooting to the top of the Billboard New Artist chart, rewarding the young blues guitarist an appearance in the film “Blues Brothers 2000.” His success continued with the release of his sophomore CD, “Wander This World,” which earned him a Grammy nomination and resulted in spending most of his teenage years on the road with the likes of B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Sting, Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones.
When Lang released his third CD, “Long Time Coming,” the recording showed a musical move from blues to soulful rock.
A year later, the hip-hop world embraced his music, too, when Eminem sampled Lang's "Dying to Live" for his musical soundtrack to the film production of “Tupac: Resurrection.” However, there was this monkey on his back.
"It got to the point where I was an alcoholic. I couldn't not drink. I had to wake up and drink. I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and then I just started getting into all sorts of other kinds of drugs. I was partying pretty hard, and loving it.”
Then Lang had a personal spiritual transformation. When the father of his girlfriend Hayley (later his wife) passed away, he had a spiritual encounter and became a Christian.
"For years, I mistook the spiritual feeling I would have when I performed on stage for being God. You think just because there is power that you are on the right track. I didn't know there was power on both sides. I was basically living for myself and satisfying my own will and desires. I felt like I didn't have to answer to God or to anybody for those things. Although I grew up going to church, I didn't really understand that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus. So, I started pursuing other things even though I had a deep spiritual hunger that was not being satisfied.”
He’s now headlining his own shows again, which include songs from his recently released album, “Live at the Ryman,” his first record since 2006’s “Turn Around,” which earned him a Grammy award for Best Gospel Album.
“Turn Around” was not a typical gospel album.
While songs like "Thankful" and "It's Not Over" featured some traditional gospel sounds, the term "gospel" applies more to the spirit behind the music and not the musical style itself, he says. “I’ve never been the type of person who enjoys any type of content in any art that is just there to please people. I’ve always appreciated when somebody is direct and honest.” Lang wants to continue to write classic songs and thoughtful songs that are touched by the content of his faith. “I try to be as careful as I can not to say things that can be interpreted as heavy-handed or preachy,” he says.
His popularity has not been affected by this personal spiritual transformation, and he attributes this to understanding that others do not share the same beliefs, so he does not force them; he only wants others to see the improvement in his own life.
“I haven’t felt too remorseful about departing from straight-up blues,” he says. “The blues is a great place to start with Robert Johnson, Albert Collins, B.B. King, Freddie King and all those guys. It's where it all started, which makes it a really good background that I can always draw from. Every record I've done has felt progressively more and more like the real me, but more than anything I've done, this one comes straight from my heart."
So Lang has battled his demons and won. He is clean and sober.
He stands now as a mature creative force, made more sensitive yet toughened by life's adventures. He's learned what it means to rise above hard times and to find meaning where chaos seemed to rule. That, then, is the message of Jonny Lang: To Turn Around, you move ahead. •
7:30 pm February 25, Cascade Theatre, Redding Tickets $42-76 (VIP supporter tickets are $102) Call (530) 243-8877 or visit www.cascadetheatre.org
7:30 pm February 27, Laxson Auditorium, Chico Tickets $25-$37 Call (530) 898-6333 or go to www.chicoperformances.com