The Gospel Truth 

Blues guitar prodigy Jonny Lang gives a shout-out to the big man on his new album.

click to enlarge art33_music_jonnylang_100.jpg

I interviewed him when he was 16. He was polite, but clearly uncomfortable. He was monosyllabic, noncommittal, shy. Onstage a month later, however, as the opening act for Aerosmith at the Classic Amphitheatre, he was utterly in command. His encore of Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic," the feeling and aggression he poured into it, left an impression.

Eight years later, at Innsbrook as a headliner, he was electrifying, bristling with soul and energy, playing mostly original material that went from rock to blues to funk to a Celtic-flavored ballad. Toward the end, I heard a familiar chord, and to my disbelief he launched into Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City." It was fabulous. He ripped into it with everything he had. His vocals and guitar lead were passionate, soulful and right on the mark.

Last week, reached by phone in Louisiana, Lang commented on that song: "Doing a cover, especially Stevie Wonder, is risky, and I don't even know if I do it justice." Turns out Wonder himself had no such doubts. After hearing Lang's version, Wonder invited Lang to perform it live at Wonder's induction into the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters Hall of Fame. Lang recalled the moment: "Oh, man — well, first of all, when they told me, I just did not even believe it. He's been a huge influence on me musically. It was the most random, out-of-left-field thing. And it was the most nerve-racking thing I've ever done! I mean he was sitting right there, and there were all these other great songwriters there as well. I still can't believe it. It was awesome."

Lang's newest record represents another change in direction. While his favorite guitar players B.B. King and Albert Collins don't hint at it, his favorite vocalists — Wonder, Donny Hathaway and gospel singer John P. Kee — shed some light. "Turn Around" is a soul and gospel record with plenty of funk. Lang, now open and affable in interviews, said this record speaks of who he really is. "I'm a Christian," he said. "I believe in Jesus. It's probably the most important thing in my life. I'm just so grateful to him, and I just want to find a way, more and more, to give the credit to him. That's the thing that comes out most easily for me. On this record I've gotten to say a little more directly what's in my heart." He paused, and then added, "But we're still doing 'Livin' for the City.'" S

Jonny Lang plays Innsbrook After Hours Wednesday, Aug. 16. Phil Keaggy opens the show at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10-$30. For more information, visit or call 423-6589. Ticketscan be purchased at or 794-6700.

  • Click here for more Arts & Culture

  • Tags:


    Subscribe to this thread:

    Add a comment

  • Re: The Nu Puppis Traveling Theater Group Launches a 21st-Century Model

    • What a great review! These young people are doing some interesting stuff, and I look…

    • on October 25, 2016
  • Re: PICK: The Central Virginia Celtic Festival and Highland Games at RIR

    • I posted this comment to the festival site, but it does not appear to be…

    • on October 24, 2016
  • Re: Richmond's Aural History: The 1960s

    • I was there, too... All those things that others have talked about are part of…

    • on October 23, 2016
  • More »
  • Latest in Music

    More by Andy Garrigue

    • What Not to Miss

      Of the Folk Festival's 25 acts, here's what to catch.
      • Oct 5, 2005
    • Outside Influences

      The National Folk Festival is one of three giants moving into Richmond this fall.
      • Sep 7, 2005
    • Dawg Part Deux

      Newgrass band Old School Freight Train records with David Grisman.
      • Feb 2, 2005
    • More »

    Copyright © 2016 Style Weekly
    Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
    All rights reserved
    Powered by Foundation