Johnny A. has one of the most eloquent voices in modern music – and he doesn’t sing a note. Instead, he channels joy, love, humor, sadness… every aspect of the human experience, through his guitar.
Only the finest musicians have the ability to capture the nuances of life in sound, which puts Johnny in a very exclusive group of six-stringers that includes Les Paul, Wes Montgomery, Jeff Beck, Chet Atkins, and Jimi Hendrix. The secret is his blend of melody, sonic definition, technique and that indefinable-yet-tangible quality called “soul.” And he’s eloquently shared that secret on the CDs Sometime Tuesday Morning (2001), Get Inside (2004), and the instructional DVD Taste, Tone, Space (2006), which are approaching combined sales of 150,000 copies. All the virtues of Johnny A.‘s playing are in abundant display on One November Night, a brand new DVD/CD set recorded live at Scullers in his hometown of Boston, MA.
“We were coming off a long tour,” Johnny relates. "Plus, my daughter had just been in her first car wreck, so I wasn’t sure if we should even record this show, and yet, the music and the audience and the night were beautiful. Everyone and everything in the room came together to make it an extremely special experience."
That’s obvious from the opening chord cascade of the high-spirited “I Had To Laugh” to the rich, warm vibrato-shaded “Lullabye For Nicole” to the country & western soundscape “Tex Critter” to the rave-up “Jimi Jam,” a tribute to Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and other ‘60s blues and rock icons who have been among Johnny’s many influences during his years as a performer.
Most of the night’s repertoire is drawn from Johnny’s previous studio albums, but this is the first time the ferocious “Jimi Jam” and his artful interpretations of The Beatles “The Night Before” and Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” have been recorded on CD. The DVD concludes with a mesmerizing solo rendition of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” that was filmed outdoors against the backdrop of a vibrant New England sunset.
“For me, One November Night is a special way to end the chapter of my career that Sometime Tuesday Morning and Get Inside represents,” says Johnny. “It’s not that I won’t play those songs anymore,” he adds. After all, they won him a place in the hearts of a still-growing legion of fans and at the top of the Triple A radio charts, where “Oh Yeah” became the first number one instrumental in more than a decade.
That extensive airplay and a live performance on syndicated radio’s popular “Bob and Tom” show also propelled Sometime Tuesday Morning and Get Inside to the apex of Amazon.com’s best-sellers list, where both titles jockeyed for the number-one and number-two positions.
“Those albums helped me establish my identity as an instrumental artist after decades leading rock and pop bands, and as a sideman for Peter Wolf, Bobby Whitlock, and others,” Johnny explains.
They also earned Johnny invitations to share the stage with, and ultimately win the admiration of, B.B. King, Les Paul, George Thorogood, Jeff Beck and J.J. Cale, among others. He’s also performed at such prestigious festivals as Eric Clapton’s Crossroads, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and Tokyo’s Fuji Rock Festival.
Although an instrumentalist, Johnny thinks like a singer as he plays, composes and improvises on guitar. “I’m always interested in dynamics and tone far more than the amount of notes played,” Johnny explains. “What’s most important is that every song has a strong, clear melody; not how fast or flashy the solo is going to be. That’s a lesson I learned when I fell in love with The Beatles and other bands of the British Invasion, which is still my favorite era in music.”
As Johnny explores various genres from song to song, melody remains as the unifying backbone of his voice. And the way he plays those melodies is highly personal. His blend of a hybrid picking style and an unconventional approach to playing chord-based melodies helps create a sound that’s absolutely his own. And it’s complimented by an unerring sense of rhythm developed on the first instrument he played as a youngster: drums.
"I’ve never had a guitar lesson, so my approach is entirely natural, “Johnny notes.” His technique allows him to accent certain notes within his chords or during a melody line in the same way a traditional soul singer can push a note to a grittier or higher range for emotional effect.
Another factor in Johnny’s distinctive sound is his choice of guitars. “I’ve played all the classic makes and models over the years, but when I embarked on my solo career and was making Sometime Tuesday Morning I was looking for a guitar that had a rich, pure distinctive tone and a subtle vibrato arm that would allow me to end phrases like a singer, and that led me back to Gibsons,” he recounts. Johnny’s use of the Gibson Les Paul, ES-335, Firebird, and ES-295 models caught the Nashville-based company’s attention. In fact, Johnny’s unmatched sound so won over the Gibson staff that they were moved to produce a Johnny A. Signature Model.
Johnny’s been getting that kind of reaction from fans and other musicians since he was in his teens, working his way up from playing pizza parlors to headlining now-historic Boston clubs like the Rat with his bands The Streets, Hidden Secret and Hearts on Fire. He also has the distinction of being the last guitar player to perform at the historic Boston Garden before its demolition.
Johnny’s work as a sideman has taken him around the world, including a seven year stint leading legendary J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf’s group and also co-producing Wolf’s 1996 solo album Long Line, which garnered a four-star review in Rolling Stone.
When his gig with Wolf ended, Johnny began working on his solo career and Sometime Tuesday Morning. "At the time, I thought it might be the last thing I ever recorded – maybe something for my daughter to listen to in the future so she’d know what her dad once did, "Johnny says. “To my surprise it sold 90,000 copies and launched this entire phase of my career. Besides my family, there’s nothing I love more than being able to play my guitar and make a living with my creativity. I feel I’m on an amazing adventure – not only because this music has literally taken me to so many places, but because it takes me somewhere new every time I play.”
“Devotion to melodies, tight dynamics and succulent tones perfectly temper Johnny’s balance of fire and ice.” - Ted Drozdowski, Guitar World
“Johnny A. has eclectic musical vision and the skills to realize it…A.’s music is both accessible and sophisticated.” – Ed Kopp JAZZIZ
“Johnny A. has his own signature guitar—and seemingly scores of signature guitar sounds at his fingertips. If he had trouble focusing on a particular style as a budding musician, the attention deficit is paying off handsomely now.” - Mike Joyce, Washington Post