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A Hometown Boy Returns: Q&A With Fargo Native And Grammy Winner Jonny Lang

Photo Courtesy of SKH Music/Daniella Hovsepian

Jonny Lang has made his way back home a multitude of times since leaving Fargo at the age of 15. However, each time he returns, he brings more experience and tales from his world of music. Though he has a Grammy under his belt and has shared the stage with legends like Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Sting, he continues to come back home time and time again. Regardless of his level of success, Lang continues to be grateful and appreciative of the city that spawned his love for music. We had a chance to talk with him about returning to Fargo, among other things, in advance of his June 28 concert at The Fargo Theatre.

Q: What do you think your feelings will be when you come back to Fargo this month?

A: It’s always a little nostalgic seeing family and friends. It’s just always nice to get back.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the new album Signs. What was the inspiration behind it and what do you like about it the most?

A: What sticks out to me is how fun it was to write the songs and collaborate with all the musicians. It didn’t take long to record either and I just had a great time doing it. The process just seemed stress free. The music part is always fun, but sometimes the logistics can make recording tough, but this one just seemed different. The logistics just seemed to take care of themselves, so all I had to do is record.

Q: What kind of impact did Fargo have on you as a musician?

A: I had never seen live music when I first started. My dad took me out to the old Playmakers Bar to see a band called Bad Medicine. That sticks out to me the most because I later took lessons from that band’s guitarist. Fargo is where I grew up, there were just a lot of firsts for me here, musically and personally.

Q: Now, to my knowledge you are the first and only Fargoan to win a Grammy. How does that feel? What was winning that award like?

A: I guess I’ve never thought about that. That’s actually really cool. You know, winning the award is an honor but I got a greater appreciation for it after I saw the process behind it. I mean, it’s other musicians voting on your music, that made winning even more special.

Q: Last year, you were playing outdoors here at Bluestem, what excites you the most about having a concert at the famous Fargo Theatre?

A: It’s a classic, old theatre and I have played there a bunch of times in the past. It’s just neat because it’s a small venue, which makes it more intimate, adds to the effect of the music. It’s my hometown with everybody gathering and enjoying some music, so that’ll add to the effect of it too.

Q: You’ve gotten to tour with some of the biggest names in music: Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and even B.B. King. Which artist was the most fun to tour with?

A: All of those were good memories, it’s kind of a blur just because it all happened in just a several year period. B.B. sticks out to me though, he was so nice to me. He could’ve just as easily treated me as a kid, because that’s what I was, but he treated me like one of the guys. He even let me play on stage with him. That was amazing.

Q: To piggyback off of that, which artist taught you the most while you were on tour with them?

A: I guess there weren’t any “Come here kid, let me show you something” moments. However, just watching those guys, as performers and musicians was where I learned the most. Once you’re at their level, you assume everyone is so serious and there is this vibe of seriousness. But, the secret is actually having fun, that’s why those guys have been around so long, they continue to have fun. That’s very key.

Q: You know, the saying about you is how much a kid dynamo you were, releasing your first album at 15. How do you think you have evolved as a musician since then?

A: I don’t know if I can quantify it. I just learned a lot, being married and having kids were the biggest changes in that. As far as music goes, I’ve always had a mindset of being open to learning, you know. Take all the experience and make something out of it, then you can look back on it. I am amazed with the things I’ve done, I never could’ve dreamed or imagined all those things.

Q: Which artist/album/song will never get old in your mind. In essence, which record is never coming off your turntable?

A: That’s a hard one. Probably James Taylor Hourglass and probably a couple of Stevie Wonder records. That James Taylor album just impacted me so much the first time I heard it in either 1998 or 1999. It just got me and it has never lost that effect on me. It still gets me.

Q: Last question, what do you miss most about Fargo now that you take up residence in Los Angeles?

A: It was a great place to grow up, riding my bike, goofing off, you could do that. We used to ride all over town. We live outside of Los Angeles now, but I would still feel kind of weird letting my kids ride their bikes all around like I did. I suppose it is just a different time too. But I think Fargo is still like that to a degree. There are just a lot of fond memories for me.

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Written by Nolan P. Schmidt

Nolan is the Editor of Fargo Monthly. Schmidt is also the Editor of Spotlight Media's Bison Illustrated and Future Farmer publications. He is originally from Bismarck, N.D. and is a proud graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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