On Saturday, Jonny Lang will play the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago, joining the likes of Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Steve Winwood, and Buddy Guy, among dozens of others. Sharing the stage with musicians of such stature is nothing new to Lang. And in fact this will be his second Crossroads appearance — he performed at the inaugural event in 2004 — but this time he'd like to meet one legend to whom he's been compared but whose path he's yet to cross: Eric Clapton. "I’ve never met him," Lang says, sounding anxious at the opportunity. "I hope I get to."
The day-long festival comes during an especially productive time for Lang. In addition to working on his own forthcoming studio album, he's contributed to Carlos Santana's next all-star release as well as to jazzman Lee Ritenour's 6 String Theory and Cyndi Lauper's Memphis Blues. "She's awesome," Lang says in praise of Lauper, adding that she “understands that style of music so much more deeply than I had assumed. She’s really something else.”
Lang is also well into his Live By Request tour, in which he plays a few selections voted for by fans on his website. More often than not, he says, the top picks are ones from Lie To Me and Wander This World, his major-label debut and its follow-up, respectively. However, he concedes, "I find it a little bit tough to relate to the first couple albums," although that doesn't deter him when it comes time to perform. "When you’re playing live you get caught up in the moment," he says, "and the moment is enough inspiration in and of itself to make a good performance out of it."
Lang’s more recent efforts have underscored his emergence as a lyricist, so that he most identifies with those isn’t all that alarming. However, listeners who expected him to recycle the same blues-based motifs he made his name on were indeed surprised to discover he'd taken his music in a new direction.
Your songwriting, in particular, has evolved over recent years to reflect more spiritual themes. Has that been liberating for you?
It really is. The first few records I couldn’t really relate to what I was singing [about]. It’s been fun to try to get better at putting my feelings into words and having it work. It’s very therapeutic being able to put your experiences into your art, especially if you can do it in a way that helps other people, where people can relate to it and feel like they’re invested in it as well.