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5 minutes alone - Jonny Lang: "Technical proficiency has never come easy to me"

The teen prodigy turned blues statesmen Jonny Lang on first guitars, lost Teles and winning a Grammy.

Got my first real six string

“My dad bought me my first guitar for my 13th birthday. He must have emptied out the bank account for it. It was a 1962 re-issue Strat: white with a green pickguard. That’s a pretty popular guitar. Shortly after that I became an Albert Collins fan and he was a Telecaster guy so I had to be a Telecaster guy too [laughs].”

It’s just a bad obsession

I almost gave up playing a million times because I couldn’t do what I wanted quickly enough

“Some things about the guitar came naturally to me. The things that didn’t come naturally I worked really hard at. I almost gave up playing a million times because I couldn’t do what I wanted quickly enough. Everyone who plays guitar goes through that, I’m sure. I was just obsessed with the guitar and I wouldn’t let it go. I played day and night.”

You got the music in you

“As a kid, being labelled a teenage prodigy bugs you but in retrospect it was a wonderful career vehicle. To be young and doing something like that brought good press and I wouldn’t take that back. I watched the Grammys as a kid and that was a pinnacle and I wished I could do that. As great as [winning a Grammy] was, just playing music itself has been the most rewarding thing to me, and it continues to be the most incredible feeling.”

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea

“There’s this little five-watt National amp with an 8" speaker that I plugged in and my life has never been the same since. It is an unbelievable amp. I would use that with my Telecaster, although I have to say my Les Paul is a close second.”

There goes my hero

“Getting to meet, hang out with and play with BB King was incredible. When I zoom way out and think about it, to grow up in an era with musicians like him is special. To meet him as well and all of these titans and play with them and run in the same circles, that has been incredible to me. A lot of songs on my new album were influenced by Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson. That era of music is pretty important to me but I don’t think I’ve ever tried to tip a hat to it before. This time around a few songs have that vibe.”

Baby, come back

“We had a trailer stolen when I was like 16 years old. That had a lot of gear in it and it had a couple of old guitars, a couple of 70s Teles and one of those was really special to me. I wish I could get it back.”

One more time with feeling

I landed flat on the ground in front of 20,000 people. It was brutal. You can’t take it back!

“If anything has frustrated me about the guitar it is the technicality and the technical proficiency. They have never come easy to me. Any technique I have has come with a lot of work. Incorporating the guitar into a song, however, is something that I have been okay at. I don’t have to think about that at all. All of the technique goes out of my mind and I can just play what I feel.”

Blood on your face, you big disgrace

“We were on the road with Aerosmith and playing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which at that time was my hometown. I was excited to be opening for Aerosmith and about halfway through the show I slipped on some water or something on the stage. It was like one of those slapstick movies where a guy slips on a banana peel and goes impossibly high into the air. I landed flat on the ground in front of 20,000 people. It was brutal. You can’t take it back!”

Jonny Lang’s latest album Signs is out now on Provogue.

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