Jonny Lang went down to the crossroads - and found a cross.
Maybe it's an oxymoron, a devoutly Christian electric blues guitarist, but Lang - who proudly "came to Jesus" four years ago - gave up booze and drugs, not his outrageously wicked way with a Telecaster Thinline.
His has never been a storybook career, anyway. You couldn't make this stuff up.
Lang has an amazing singing voice, growly one moment like a whiskey-soaked veteran bluesman, joyously supple like a young Steve Winwood the next.
He's just 28 years old.
The model-handsome native of Fargo, N.D. - not exactly famous as a bubbling cauldron of the blues - made his first album at age 15. In the intervening years, he's toured with the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy, and was invited by Eric Clapton himself to play at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004.
Lang shares the Savannah Civic Center bill June 23 with Guy, a legendary guitarslinger who's literally as old as Lang sounds.
On 1996's Turn Around, Lang's music ventures deep into rhythm ‘n' blues and gospel territory. It brought him his first Grammy.
It's a stylistic departure for a musician who's only just discovering that change can be a darn good thing.
A lot of Christians certainly feel that rock ‘n' roll and blues are "the devil's music." We both know that's ridiculous, but there it is. How do you reconcile the two?
Jonny Lang: Even being counted among the group called Christian, I haven't really felt a pressure to perform within that cultural box. Just because my relationship with Jesus started so personally, and apart from the culture of Christianity - there was no church that I visited, or person that really led me to it. It just happened between him and I, and started that way. So I felt like my direction has come from him, mostly. So people's opinions never really had too much weight with me in that regard.
I guess I just kinda figured that he had called me while I was playing that music, so did he expect me to just become a pastor or something like that? I felt it was all right with God.
Because you became successful at such a young age, do you feel like there was some part of life you missed?
Jonny Lang: You know, I've never really wondered that to the point of regret. Growing up was a little boring - that's my memory of it.
Was that just because you were in Fargo?
Jonny Lang: I'm sure that had something to do with it. I don't know, I loved music so much. Ever since I can remember that's what I wanted to do. I didn't have a real stellar social life in school, so I was all for going on the road and doing stuff like that. It felt more like an adventure than anything.
What's it like to meet your boyhood idols - B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton - and share a stage with them? When do you say ‘I can stand next to these guys and not feel like an idiot'?
Jonny Lang: I don't know if I'm there yet! For the most part, all the guys that could have treated me like a little kid, didn't. Yeah, I've met a lot of really wonderful musicians along the way, and made some really good friends.
There's really only been one or two people along the way who haven't ... maybe I just caught ‘em on a bad day or something ... but for the most part, the guys who are considered to be legends and rock stars really aren't that way in person. They're pretty down-to-earth, for the most part.
You've played with Buddy a lot. Why is he one of the greats?
Jonny Lang: A lot of it is that he still truly loves it. I don't think he takes a moment that he gets to play his guitar for granted, still. And it really shows when he's onstage performing.
Stylistically, it's pretty much Buddy Guy, B.B. King and a couple others that are left that still play with that fire, and that recklessness. He's made an art out of just startin' with one riff and not worrying about completely falling on his face if that's what it means. He's just: Full steam ahead, and leave a wake of destruction.
There's been a change in your music over the last few years - how much of that, if any, has been a result of the shift in your belief system?
Jonny Lang: I think they just kind of coincided, both apart from and because of each other. I feel like I've been progressing away from just straight-up blues style music for a long time. Even before that took place in my life. But at the same time, it was kind of a good catalyst, and it kinda gave me permission to explore different styles of music.
You get a little afraid to step outside of the box, when that's what you're known for. For anybody who is creative, it can be a little tormenting to just stay where they're at. So it was probably mostly that - just mounting frustration at staying where I was at, stylistically.
Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang
Where: Martin Luther King Arena, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Ogelthorpe Ave.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 23
Phone: (800) 351-7469