Johnny A Driven
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Master guitarist Johnny A. plays The Point
By: CHRIS CAMERON
Special to the Times July 25, 2001

It's nice to hear an instrumental guitarist who isn't interested in showing off his chops. "Sometime Tuesday Morning," the debut album from Boston-based guitarist Johnny A., is a relaxed, crafty mix of rock, pop, jazz and blues of the ages, not a lengthy, overblown guitar lesson. The guitarist performs next Thursday at The Point.

"I think it's a lot to ask of an audience to listen to an album without lyrics," the guitarist says. "The radio is vocal dominated, but I wanted to appeal to that same audience, kind of in the tradition of some of the older instrumentalists like Chet Atkins or Les Paul."

"Sometime Tuesday Morning" was released in the Boston area in February on Johnny's Aglaophone Records. The CD caught the attention of guitar virtuoso Steve Vai. "I was trying to break it out of the New England market, and I was toying with the idea of trying to do a national campaign myself," A. recalls. "Somehow, Steve Vai got ahold of the record, and he just really loved it."
The CD was re-released in June on Vai's Favored Nations label. Now, after years of playing as a hired gun, Johnny A. is ready to step out on his own and let his voice shine.

He has toured and recorded with many artists, including Bobby Whitlock and J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf. The guitarist, however, found his own music becoming stifled. "This album came at a time when I had just finished working with Wolf," A. recalls. "I had been a sideman for almost a decade and my own creativity got shelved for a while. When Pete didn't want to tour anymore, I realized I was out of a job. I didn't want to be in that position anymore without any control."

The guitarist decided to try a different route. "Sometime Tuesday Morning" is the result. The CD is an enticing blend of sultry jazz licks, Tex-Mex and surfer twang, rock, and rockabilly. The majority of the tunes are his, but he also adds some great covers. He gets happy on "Yes It Is" as he adds his Bigsby vibrato. He takes the Ventures' "Walk Don't Run" out of the surf genre and turns it into a Tex-Mex tango. And guitarists and romantics alike are sure to fall in love with his version of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman."

But A. really turns up the heat and tone on his own songs. Songs like "Two Wheel Horse" and "Oh Yeah" demonstrate his ability to bridge the instrumental in a pop music world. It's easy to imagine a singer on these songs, but A.'s guitar handles all that while drummer Craig MacIntyre and bassist Ed Spargo lay down a steady beat. "I was always the singer-songwriter cat in my previous bands," A. says. "But it was always painful for me to sing and hear my own voice back. My approach to what I do instrumentally maybe differs from other guitarists. I have a pop sensibility about what I do even though there might be a little bit of a jazz dynamic and a rock edge.

"This music is not a vehicle for me to shred. It's really about the songs, which are pretty traditional. I wanted to make a record that was diverse where hopefully my guitar could be the voice that added cohesiveness to all the different genres."
The guitarist's influences can be traced back to his roots. "I don't have any musicians in my family, but there was always music around the house. I'm from Greek descent, and there was always a lot of Middle Eastern music with great rhythm, and my dad always listened to big band jazz as well."

But A. learned his earliest licks from listening to a variety of rock players like Jimi Hendrix and Mike Bloomfield. He uses a tasteful mix of Gibson Guitars on his album, primarily an ES-295 gold archtop, as well as a number of Les Pauls, 335s, and L-5s. But it's his versatility and his taste for tone and phrasing that are gaining him attention. "I really began to play this type of music shortly prior to recording the album," he says. "I don't have any preference to a musical style; I don't pigeonhole myself into what I listen to, and I'm trying to not be pigeonholed with what I play."

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