By FERN BRODKIN
For 21st Century Media
There’s an old saying – if you want something done right then do it yourself. And that’s exactly what Johnny A. did on his new album “Driven” (Aglaophone), which has been in limited release in the Boston area and online since March and will be available nationwide on May 3.
Johnny A. is hands down one of the most gifted guitarists on the planet. He even has his own Gibson signature guitar, a significant honor. He is not known as a multi-instrumentalist. Yet not only did he play all the instruments on “Driven,” “I did the album myself. I actually engineered it as well. Engineered, mixed, edited. I did everything but master it,” Johnny said during a phone interview from his home.
“It was a creative decision,” he explains. “It really wasn’t a personal decision. I pretty much in my head knew how I wanted this record to be and I initially did some pre-production rehearsals with guys – a couple of different drummers, a couple of different bass players, a couple of different guitar players – and I found that it just wasn’t sounding like I wanted… and I just decided that I had so much invested in my career over the years that I really didn’t want to compromise on the record.”
It was a long process.
“It took me 18 months to do the record. I built a recording studio prior to starting to record. I built the studio, recorded all the tracks, and once all the tracks were recorded I took a short two-week break between recording and mixing and I tore the studio down and rebuilt the studio with another console for mixing. So it was a pretty arduous ordeal. It was good, though. It was rewarding. I enjoyed the process.”
This is Johnny’s first studio album since “Get Inside” (Favored Nations, 2004). He released the live CD and DVD package “One November Night” (Aglaophone) in 2010. His loyal fans have been clamoring for new music from him for a long time.
“The reason it took so long between studio albums is because I’m an independent musician without a record label and it’s very expensive to make a record,” explains Johnny. “I tried to get ‘Driven’ out a year-and-a-half ago but I couldn’t make it happen.”
The new album is “a departure” stylistically, he says. “It’s a little more of a groove-oriented backbeat sounding record. It (was) just time to do something else.”
Johnny says he’s not only happy to finally have the new album out, he’s looking forward to hitting the road with his new band. In conjunction with debuting the new material, Johnny has decided to forgo the power trio format that he has employed for the past 15 years and add another guitarist, Gregg Tawa, to the band.
“We needed another guitar player for where I wanted to go as a deliverer of melody,” he says. (That) is the way the record sounds.”
The quartet is rounded out by Evan Coniglio (bass) and Marty Richards (drums).
Yet he adds that preparing to get back out on the road is “a lot of work for me as well… because it’s not only breaking in three new guys, it’s a completely different show. There (are) only about four or five songs left over from the last show. It’s pretty much the whole new album and it’s songs from ‘Sometime Tuesday Morning’ and ‘Get Inside’ that don’t get performed that often. There (are) only a few songs — four or five — from the old show, songs that people would expect to hear… There’s one cover on the new album and we’re probably doing that. There might be a total of three covers in the show.”
Johnny doesn’t complain about how hard it is to maintain his musical career, even without record label support.
“I get to do what I want to do for a living. I’m lucky that I get to do what I do… and I get to do it on my terms. I get to play the music I want to play, the way I want to play it, I get to record it the way I want to record it. Nobody tells me what to do. And there’s a certain amount of a liberating feeling in that freedom and self-satisfaction in being able to do that.”
Johnny knows that “the market for instrumental music as opposed to vocal music is miniscule.”
Yet he has no intention of adding a vocalist to the band in order to become more commercially accessible.
“For me it’s just more rewarding to do what I like to do on my own terms musically.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Johnny A.
WHERE: May 2 at 8 p.m., Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville, PA
INFO.: Call (215) 257-5808 or check www.st94.com.