Catching up with guitarist Johnny A



Photo by John W. Hession

Although he’s been heard around the world and is creatively tied to the Boston music scene, guitarist Johnny A. lives quietly in Derry, NH, making music his way. He’s played with many of the greatest performing artists of all time, but his real claim to fame is his independently released 1999 solo album, “Sometime Tuesday Morning.” It sold about 150,000 copies and produced “Oh Yeah,” the first instrumental song to hit #1 on the AAA radio charts in a decade. That and a second radio hit, “Get Inside,” led the Gibson company to commission a custom guitar bearing his name. It’s now the second best-selling signature model in the Gibson line of instruments.

I know you are a big Beatles fan. I read that you got to see them when you were 12. What do you remember about that?

Hysteria was in the air. It was the most electric event I’d ever been at before or since. It was at Suffolk Downs and I was pretty much in the first row but I was still 100 yards away from them. You couldn’t hear the music unless you blocked your ears to filter out the screaming. I never saw anything like it.

Was it a moment of inspiration for you?

Not like ‘this is what I want to do.’ I’d already been playing music. I played drums since I was age 6. I think that was when I shifted to guitar.

he two marquee artists were Jeff Beck and Brian Wilson. If anyone ever asked me if I could jam with any guitar player who would it be, it was always Jeff Beck. I got to play with him for 45 minutes.

A lot has changed in the music business since the 1970s. What remains the same?

There are still musicians out there trying to grab the brass ring. That’s what keeps it going.

You were deep into the Boston music back in the ’70s. What was that like?

It was a great scene. You had places like the Rat and the Paradise with a great media base in the Boston Phoenix, plus local music reviewers from the Globe like Ted Drozdowski and Brett Milano. One of the largest radio stations in the nation, WBCN, was playing local music. I had a band called The Streets and the drinking age was 18, so the clubs got a lot of traffic and you could develop a young fan base.

Your stint with Peter Wolf must have been an interesting ride. Any stories?

I worked with Wolf for seven years. He showed me how to put on a show, conduct an interview, handle a crowd. I don’t have too many road stories, but let’s just say I got a good schooling.

“Oh Yeah” was the first instrumental single to go to #1 on the radio in more than a decade. What did it have that other instrumental tracks didn’t? 

If I knew, I’d put one out every year. It’s a very simple song — four minutes, 12 seconds —  and that’s about how long it took to write. It just rolled right out in one stream. Had a catchy groove.

You’ve played with some greats over the years. Does anyone stand out?

A real bucket list moment for me was to play with Jeff Beck. I opened for him in 2000 in Portland, Maine, then we crossed paths a year and half ago. I signed on to play for a R&R fantasy camp and the two marquee artists were Jeff Beck and Brian Wilson. If anyone ever asked me if I could jam with any guitar player who would it be, it was always Jeff Beck. I got to play with him for 45 minutes.

A lot has changed in the music business since the 1970s. What remains the same?

There are still musicians out there trying to grab the brass ring. That’s what keeps it going.

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