Guitar Player Nov. 2006: Recording Johnny A. Live >>

Johnny A. Extensive Cover Feature in the September, 2005 ToneQuest Report (PDF 1MB) >>

Washington Post 4/22/05: "Guitarist Johnny A., Getting Everybody's Licks In" >>

Philadelphia City Paper 3/11/04: Music Picks "Get Inside" >>

Boston Globe 2/21/04: CD review "Get Inside" >>


from Favored Nations Entertainment

For Johnny A., the guitar has been a lifelong fascination. Those six strings exert a powerful hold over the man, inspiring moments of ecstatic improvisation, imparting deep contemplation and, occasionally, moments of aching frustration. It's a stormy affair coupled with a tempestuous hollow-body lover, but the rewards have been great. Wresting colors and emotions from those six strings, Johnny A. is as much a master as he is the eternal student - with a formidable talent, but a desire to learn that is just as strong. On Johnny A.'s latest Favored Nations disc, Get Inside, he once again lets the guitar lead the way on a dozen instrumentals that span a gulf of style from cool a go-go to finger-lickin' guitar pickin' to laying pure rock n' roll rubber. This is music for an open mind aching for the open road.

"I Had to Laugh" has breezy swing to it tempered by urban jazz - like a bunch of Manhattan beatniks lost in a Cadillac on a rural lane. A horn section perks up the chorus, stepping hard on the accelerator to lift this baby right off the highway. "Krea Gata" rises mysteriously like Mingus wandering his dark streets. Guitar tones pick out hushed territories until the piece builds into something stormy and defiant with its raging solo. The title track, "Get Inside" works off a stately mid-tempo groove surrounding a throaty story-telling guitar. Hammond organ swells about the Gibson's discourse and horns exert their Memphis groove at the end, but before you get there Johnny's guitar has finished disclosing a drama. The mystery has a cliffhanger ending; though, you have to get inside the music to solve it.

In addition to ten new originals, Get Inside includes a pair of reworked classics. Johnny Rivers' "Poor Side of Town" is rendered fairly faithfully, with gorgeous guitar tones recalling even the wispy female background vocals that spiced the 1966 hit. However, Johnny A.'s interpretation of "The Wind Cries Mary" by Jimi Hendrix is a different matter altogether. Treating the somber original in a sprightly acid jazz manner disassembles, then rearranges the song in a fresh new way. It's the spirit of Hendrix and his legendary abilities as a musician, writer and arranger that Johnny honors with this version.

Johnny A.'s casual disregard for sticking to one specific style was first demonstrated on his Favored Nations debut Sometime Tuesday Morning where the selection of instrumental originals ran the gamut from dreamy lounge musings on the title track to the breakneck country-western of "Up In The Attic," a purring blues shuffle on "Two Wheel Horse," the raucous burlesque of "Walkin' West Ave." and the distinctive toe-tapping delight of "Oh Yeah." The latter showcased Johnny's lightning finger work and consummate sense of melody, creating an instant head-turning reaction with listeners. The song went on the become a major request item at radio stations in New England and then all across the country, serving as a fine introduction to Johnny's oeuvre.

Sometime Tuesday Morning began as a series of personal recordings put down in the studio for Johnny's own enjoyment. There were no restrictions on style or expectations of success. For a time it wasn't known whether the places of music would even be committed onto compact disc, but eventually the CD was produced in limited numbers and sold at Johnny A. shows around the Boston area. Then something wholly unexpected and wonderful happened. The guitarist found he couldn't hold onto those discs as friends and then fans snapped them up in steadily increasing numbers. Soon he was ordering more and more…and more. Once the Boston phenomenon came to the attention of Steve Vai at Favored Nations and Sometime Tuesday Morning garnered national distribution and promotion, Johnny A.'s modest personal project had become something much larger.

The road to that successful album was a long one with many steps and lessons. Playing in the Boston punk scene in the late 70's with the hard hitting Streets, then moving on to his own Johnny A.'s Hidden Secret and later Hearts On Fire, he established a reputation as an axeman of the first order as well as a musical director in the studio. Those talt go unnoticed. When Peter Wolf, former lead singer of the J. Geils Band decided to put together a crack backing outfit to hit the road promoting several solo albums he'd put out, Johnny A. was chosen as a guitarist.

He'd end up putting in seven years in with the Wolf, not only supporting the effusive singer on the road, but also laying down tracks in the studio and co-producing the Long Line album which Warner Brothers / Reprise issued in 1996. Although that rrelease didn't burn up the charts, it became a gratifying critical success, achieving a four-star rating in Rolling Stone. The experiences as an integral associate to the music veteran as well as supporting former Derek & the Dominos keyboardist and singer Bobby Whitlock in concert taught Johnny a great deal about showmanship, professionalism and the music business. When Peter Wold took a sabbatical from touring, his pupil decided to move on and address the growing need to craft his own personal statement.

As a player his love for the instrument reached a self-satisfying culmination in 2003 when Gibson's Custom Shop announced the production of Johnny A. Signature Model guitar. For a guitarist, being measured in the same company as modem honorees like Duane Allman, Joe Perry and Peter Frampton has to be gratifying, but Johnny was even more humbled to be joining a circle that included legendary Gibson awardees like Les Paul, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins and Charlie Christian. Those names and the styles they represent - rock n' roll, jazz, country, blues - reads as Johnny A.'s own musical palette - a broad swirl of colors that inspire and conspire to trigger new explorations with his guitar.

With the unexpected success of his first album came three years of constant touring and promotion. Johnny's backing bandmates went their separate ways in midstream and he adjusted his sound and approach with the changing lineup. New songs were conceived and jotted down as the guitarist sat in rental van after rental van heading (usually in the driver's seat) to the next gig. It was an exciting time from 1999 to 2003, but the ache to record those fresh ideas finally became reality. Now it's time to Get Inside.

There's no sophomore worries on the new album, which recalls the explorations found on Sometime Tuesday Morning, then sets off on its own intimate course. He knows how to play his guitar, that's obvious, but it's Johnny A.'s willingness to let the instrument roam that sets him apart and outside of safe harbor - plunging headlong into uncharted territory with only a six string beacon to guide the way. In a world of many great guitarists and thousands of songs, it's this quality that attracts attention to a player whose talent conveys a myriad of possibilities. Johnny A.'s labor of love is finally ready - Get Inside!

Carter Alan