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Jonny Lang: Young Bluesman, Old Soul

The guitar virtuoso from Fargo, North Dakota started kicking up a storm on disc at the age of 14.

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Jonny Lang has been part of the worldwide blues hierarchy for so long, it’s almost impossible to imagine that his 2019 birthday saw him turning a mere 38 years old. That’s what happens when you’re a former teenage prodigy who was kicking up a storm on disc at the age of 14.

The guitar virtuoso from Fargo, North Dakota created so much heat with that record, 1995’s independently-released Smokin’ that a deal with A&M Records soon followed. Lie To Me was his major label and mainstream chart debut, bounding onto the American bestsellers in early 1997.

The album combined original material with vehicles for Lang’s spectacular playing, such as Sonny Boy Williamson I’’s ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ and Ike Turner’s ‘Matchbox.’ It reached No. 44, racking up well over a year on the Billboard 200. The disc went gold within three months of charting, and platinum in a year for a million US shipments.

Still only 17 when it came to the follow-up, Wander This World, Lang could have been fazed by the challenge of repeating that success. But, far from it, he rose to the challenge, with even more impressive results. This time, the disc reached No. 29 and going gold in precisely a month, and platinum certification followed in the summer of 2000. Wander featured a guest spot by a guitar giant from a previous generation, Steve Cropper from Booker T and the MGs.

More success flowed in the 2000s for Lang, including his first US top 20 album with Long Time Coming in 2003 and another top 40 entry for 2006’s Turn Around. The latter won a Grammy for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album. In recent years, Jonny has been changing his priorities, leaving his former rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, focusing on family life and converting to Christianity.

But he made a fine return to studio work, and to the charts, with 2013’s Fight For My Soul, which took a triumphant journey to the top of Billboard’s blues countdown. Lang celebrated with a summer 2014 tour of Europe and spent that autumn on the all-star Experience Hendrix outing with the likes of Buddy Guy, Billy Cox, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Doyle Bramhall II and many others. In 2017, his seventh studio set Signs was widely hailed as a highlight of the blues-rock year.

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