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Be good, Johnny

Guitarist Johnny A. to perform at 32 Bleu


Guitarist Johnny A. mixes styles ranging from Middle Eastern music to Jimi Hendrix.
  • Guitarist Johnny A. mixes styles ranging from Middle Eastern music to Jimi Hendrix.

Johnny A. is exhausted. Compared to having to play with a full band, one would think that performing as a solo instrumentalist would be a walk in the park, with little of the tensions that come with having loads of equipment and an egotistical lead singer. But having just come from the National Guitar Workshop in Connecticut, and with only a bassist and a drummer to back him up, the electric guitarist is a little weary.

"I can never stop playing, essentially," said A. "I physically can't stop -- the burden of carrying everything is on me. Live, I try to cover two or three guitar parts at one time. It's a lot to do."

A.'s second album, Get Inside, is a recent release that has received good press, with coverage in the major guitar magazines. A. has been touring around the country in promotion of the album, with performances in London, at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and at the Eric Clapton Crossroads Festival in Dallas, Texas. A. will perform on Friday, Aug. 26 at downtown venue 32 Bleu.

A. describes his music as having a jazz dynamic, with a rock edge and pop sensibility, with musical influences that cast a wide net over many genres and influences including Chet Atkins, Jeff Beck and Queen, as well as artists in jazz, blues, country and Middle Eastern music. A.'s style is energetic and inventive, with a distinctive voice provided by his own Johnny A. Signature Model Gibson guitar.

A. pulls multiple musical tricks on Get Inside, surprising the listener with the unique mix of genres and sounds. The sound-play is deliberate, and the album's title is meant to hint at its musical haziness.

"It can mean getting inside oneself, or it can be sexual -- there are a lot of connotations," said A. "I like ambiguity, trying to meld different styles."

A. takes a similarly eclectic road when it comes to his songwriting. Like peeling away the multiple layers of an onion, he enjoys music that works on various levels.

"I like things that aren't obvious, but on the surface seem simplistic," he said. "In music, I like songs that are easy for the layman to listen to, but for the musician listening, it's really complex."

The title track, "Get Inside," works off a mid-tempo Memphis groove, whereas the brooding "Krea Gata" stands out in its slow, jazzy style that culminates in a whirlwind of pure drive and force.

"In terms of my own music, I constantly play with arrangements," said A. "The songs have to be interesting for me, because I have a short attention span."

His cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic "The Wind Cries Mary" is a lesson in creativity, disassembling the song with an acid jazz style, complete with a baleful muted trumpet solo that recalls gritty, urban Miles Davis influences. It is a rearrangement that the inventive Hendrix himself would have approved of.

"I saw Hendrix play when I was a child, and it was a profound experience. When I listen to musicians, I try to capture the essence, see what makes them tick," said A. "My impetus for playing any cover is inspiration; it's thanking them for what they've given to me, as student to teacher.

"To redo a Hendrix song in exactly the same way is foolish -- you can't be any better than him."

-- Kara Luger


Johnny A.

Friday, Aug. 6, 9 p.m.

32 Bleu, 32 S. Tejon St.

$10; Call 955-5664.

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