Go, Johnny Go!

Johnny A. brings his genre-bending guitar work to Oddbody’s

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Johnny A. performs Friday, Dec. 11 at Oddbody’s; photo: Michael Sparks Keegan

Johnny A. has spent the better part of his life as a musician. Those decades have seen him in virtually every situation in which a professional musician can find themselves. He’s been a band leader for Bobby Whitlock (Derek & the Dominos, Delaney & Bonnie) and Peter Wolf (The J. Geils Band). In 1999, he struck out on a solo career, self-releasing his debut album Sometime Tuesday Morning. It would eventually be re-released on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label and would go on to sell nearly 100,000 copies.
He’s released one live album and three studio efforts. Driven is the latest and features Johnny playing every instrument, as well as engineering and producing. Dayton City Paper sat down with him to talk about the process of recording, how he approaches writing and his Gibson signature model guitar.

Tell me about your most recent solo album, Driven. What does it mean to you now that you have a little bit of distance from it, having recorded it a year ago?
Johnny A.: I had done some pre-production with a couple different drummers, a couple different bass players and even a couple different guitar players. I had planned on recording it just like I had recorded my previous albums—get a group of guys you’ve got a vibe with, hash out the material, explain the arrangements, cut the basics and go from there. As I was doing that process—I was playing with very good musicians, they’re all top-shelf guys—but I realized I really wasn’t hearing what I was hearing in my head. I had a definite direction. Every time I make a record, you never know if it’s going to be your last one. I just decided I didn’t want to compromise. I knew the texture of the record I wanted to make. It all kind of happened organically. I was laying down demos and I realized what I was hearing back from my demos was closer to what I wanted the finished product to be.
I feel great about the record. It really stands tall in my catalog. I’m real close to it and it’s probably the truest representation of the type of artist I am from many different vantage points—as a writer, as an arranger, as a guitarist, as a shaper of music.

Are you conscious of genre during the writing process?
JA: I’m not a calculated writer. I’m a boutique, quirky, niche-type of artist as far as my original stuff goes. I don’t say ‘I have to write a country-influenced song on this record.’ The only thing I do is, when I make a recording, I like to be varied. I want to make sure keys and tempos vary because I don’t want the record to be boring and I want the listener to be engaged throughout the whole 48-65 minutes on the offering. I don’t want it to be a needle drop record.
I am influenced by a lot of different styles. I have very eclectic musical likes and tastes. I like John Scofield as much as I like Jude Cole, Jerry Rafferty, Chris Whitley, or the Everly Brothers, or the Beatles or the Yardbirds. They all excite me equally.
I was fortunate enough when I made my first record that I wasn’t trying to make a hit record. I just celebrated all of the styles I really like. It all came out on one record and was accepted. It allowed me to have a fan base that would accept me to be diverse.

How did the signature model Gibson come about? Was it modeled on any specific guitars?
JA: When I was playing with Peter Wolf from 1992-1999, I cold-called Gibson Custom and asked if they were looking for any endorsees or artists. The person I spoke with, we struck up a conversation and relationship. They endorsed me. I’ve been a Gibson artist for 22 years or so now. All that meant was I could get guitars from Gibson at artist costs. There was nothing free, but as I got to know these guys and they got to know me as a player and my passion for guitars and the Gibson brand, they started to modify guitars for me—shape the necks the way I wanted them to, and make different features they didn’t do regularly.
After my first album came out, Sometime Tuesday Morning, in 1999, I started getting written up by all the magazines and stuff. That’s when the conversation started happening about a signature guitar. I had been using several guitars to make the record and perform live. I was using my ES-295, which is a big Gibson hollow body—a big gold guitar like Scotty Moore used with Elvis. That’s the guitar that was on most of my first record. I would also use a Gibson ES-335, which is similar to what B.B. King used to use and I would use a Les Paul. All great guitars in their own right, but the issue I was having is I don’t really like to play different model guitars. I like to play one style of guitar live—for ergonomic reasons.

Johnny A. will play Friday, Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. at Oddbody’s, 5418 Burkhardt Rd. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $14 day of show. For more information, visit johnnya.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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