The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








Johnny A. Courtesy photo.

Johnny A.

Listen to and purchase the new album at
See him live:
When: Friday, Nov. 28, at 8 p.m.
Where: Laconia High School, 345 Union Avenue, Laconia
Tickets: Free; call 524-3350
Also performing Saturday, Nov. 22, at Jonathan’s of Ogunquit in Maine

Guitar driven
Johnny A. talks new album, NH show

By Michael Witthaus

 There are no vocals on a Johnny A. record, but the guitarist’s musical passions are rooted in bands known both for singing and playing. Seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show as a teenager inspired him to pick up a guitar; later, he discovered the Yardbirds and the Stones.  

“The British Invasion had the most profound effect on me,” he said in a recent phone interview. 
Thus, Johnny A. employs a Beatles analogy to describe his first new album in 10 years, Driven. It was recorded at the new studio he built at his home in Salem.
“I’ve read that Revolver was the first time the Beatles used the studio as a creative process and a tool, and that’s what this was to me,” he said of the record, released in April. Most of its songs “started in the studio. There was no hard concept,  [just] an inception of songs and music. Wherever it takes me, it takes me — wherever the inspiration goes.”
Driven reflects the guitarist’s many influences — a cover of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” is a nod to British rock while “C’mon, C’mon” has a Stax/Volt feel. “Ghost” evokes the jazz-fusion phase of a personal hero, Jeff Beck. 
“I don’t really listen to a lot of riff music. I like songs, and like Beck,” he said. “He would always do interpretations — ‘A Day in the Life’ or ‘She’s a Woman.’ Jimi Hendrix also played within a song context.”
Becoming an instrumental-only player wasn’t a choice for him. 
“I was kind of forced into it. It was not really a conscious decision. … As they say necessity is the mother of invention.” 
Since the early 1970s, he’d sung lead with many bands, but during a tour with Peter Wolf, he developed severe laryngitis. 
“I lost my mid range. … It cracks, and I can’t sing anymore,” he said.
When the Wolf project ended, he eschewed hiring a singer as a way to control his own destiny.  
“Whoever is delivering that melody is usually the fingerprint of the band [and] I just did not want to be beholden to somebody else for my survival,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m trying to deliver songs as a vocalist would … but arranging [them] in an instrumental format.”
Few share the guitarist’s distinctive talent for reshaping a familiar tune. On 2004’s Get Inside, rare permission came from Jimi Hendrix’s family to cover “Wind Cries Mary.” His version added a muted trumpet bridge. 
“The concept [came from] reading interviews with Hendrix about possible collaborations with Miles Davis,” he said. “Maybe this would have been the union … had they done something.”   
Johnny A. played all the instruments on the new album, but it wasn’t a deliberate move. 
“That was something that developed organically; the intent originally was to have a band come in,” he said, but after rehearsing with a few prospective side players, “I just wasn’t getting back what I was hearing in my head. … There wasn’t a master plan to fire everybody.”
His new studio sparked a creative process different from previous records. 
“I was learning the gear … experimenting and was really liking what I was hearing,” he said. “I was going to build the tracks and mix in another studio, but as it turned out the room sounded really good.” 
He’ll appear with a band at an upcoming show in Laconia, which will include a mid-set tribute to the Beatles. It marks the 50th anniversary of the British band’s American television debut, a seminal moment for Johnny A. 
“That was the day, that was entirely the reason why I played guitar,” he said. “Previous to the Beatles, I played drums … that is how big it was. I heard all the melody, and I wanted the melody.” 
As seen in the November 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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