The hipshakin' bop to the opening cut of this DVD / CD combo lets you know what you're in for as Johnny A adopts a Harvey Mandel tone and vocabulary a la Pete Carr before setting into a Capricorn shred solo. However, though you may not have heard of him before, lemme lay a rather astonishing fact down: not only does he play some absolutely beautiful Gibsons but the company itself was so knocked out by the flatpicker's remarkable axemanship that it designed The Johnny A signature guitar, an honor very few players on the planet will ever be able to claim. And take that 'flatpicking' label with a smidgeon of salt. If you watch the DVD closely, you'll note he combines subtle fingerpicking simultaneously in many spots.
This guy doesn't vocally emit one single note but still phrases a lot like Al Jarreau sings, with all kinds of improv and righteously clever flourishes, including tone and pitch you could calibrate a tuner by. A fan of the greats, he names Hendrix as the rock guitarist of all time (damn right!), and a lot of Jimi's style enters through the side door—again, with a great deal of Southern styling atop (think Dickey Betts, Link Wray, the Atlanta Rhythm Section gentz, etc.). Serving as side man for Peter Wolf (singer, J. Geils), Bobby Whitlock, and others, Johnny nonetheless came to a point, when gigs were hard to find, where he figured it was all over and seeking new employ a must.
Then he executed a what-the-hell, releasing a solo CD a few years ago, and the little treasure sold a jaw-dropping 90,000 copies. His thinking swiftly adapted to circumstances, thank God. Recently, the Oh Yeah single topped the radio charts, the first time an instrumental had done so in 10 years, and a rather explicit confirmation of his excellence was set in stone. Part of the attraction hides in an ultra-clean playing hand matching Carlton and Ritenour while oft tending to the fiery side of the equation. Another part is in more than a few Jim Hall / Pat Martino updates of trad cats like Kessel, Ellis, and Byrd.
But, ya want shred? Ya got shred, especially on Jimi Jam, and not solely of the guitar technician variety, either, as Johnny fully understands it was Hendrix's heart and soul that produced those world-shaking sounds, not merely a mastery of scales. The DVD affords a visual take on just what that means, and I'll leave it to the reader to discover the dimension for him- / herself. One last thought, though: if Frank Marino hasn't laid ears on this guy yet, someone needs to get One November Night to him posthaste.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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