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10 Jan 2009

Ladies & Gentlemen: the EltonJohnAllSongsList doors are wide open to receive one of the greatest talented musicians of the world...

Please, eltonites, get up, stand up to receive the fantastic, giantic... John Jorgenson!!!!

Hello John, welcome to this blogsite. You are considered one of the world’s most versatile and accomplished guitarists. Although most well-known for your guitar work with bands such as the Desert Rose Band and The Hellecasters, you're also proficient in the mandolin, mandocello, Dobro, pedal steel, piano, upright bass, clarinet, bassoon and saxophone. Really it's nice to have you here, we gonna start

Althought your parents wishes, you first became more interested in the guitar than piano or the clarinet. That was after seeing The Beatles on TV in 1964... What impressed you of them?

I loved everything about the Beatles, their music, guitars, clothes, hairstyles, personalities... and I couldn't escape how much excitement they seemed to cause, especially for all the girls I knew. Although I already played the piano and was just starting the clarinet at that time, I didn't start to think that I could maybe play the guitar until 2 years later in 1966, and I didn't get my first guitar until 1968-but had been playing around a bit with a ukelele that we had around the house for a couple years and borrowing friend's guitars and basses until I got my own to play.

Nice!!! And is it true you’d been playing in Disneyland for a while? What’s the story?

Not at that time, but I started performing at Disneyland at a fairly young age, 16 or 17, and worked there on and off for the next 13 many different bands and shows, doing many different styles of music, from rock to bluegrass to Dixieland.

Wow!!! During The Desert Rose band, you John, won the ACM's "Guitarist of the Year" award three consecutive times. And with the Hellecasters band you won both "Album of the Year" and "Country Album of the Year” for Return of the Hellecasters album. And you have collaborated with other musicians all over the world, artists ranging from Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Sting, Willie Nelson, to Bonnie Raitt and Earl Scruggs have sought out your guitar work. What about all those experiences?

Well, it is always an honor and special to be able to make music with such great artists as you mentioned. As for the awards, again it is an honor to be recognized for the hard work. The response from fellow guitarists to the Hellecaster's music was very surprising to us-we were knocked out to have been voted into those spots by our peers, but when we first decided to play together it was just for one show for fun!! With Desert Rose Band, I have to say with all modesty, it was one of the most accomplished musical acts in the country genre at the time, and still today there are not many acts that have the depth that we did. In fact, the years that I won as guitarist three of the other band members-Steve Duncan on drums, Bill Bryson on bass and jay Dee Maness on pedal steel also won for their instruments, so it was a pretty uniquely talented group of guys.

Of my session work, I have great memories of working on some of Ricky Nelson's posthumous recordings (he inspired me to get interested in country music), and with Johnny Cash on a cover of his song "Big River" by Trick Pony. Playing live and on TV with 50s icons Carl Perkins and Little Richard was amazing too, as I loved their music and they were incredibly influential on so many artists over the years, especially the Beatles!!

Earl Scruggs at 84 is always a joy to play with, and I used to hear him on TV as child when watching "The Beverly Hillbillies". He is up for a Grammy Award this year for a "Live at The Ryman Auditorium" concert recording which I played mandolin, electric guitar and sang on. Since I am also listed as an artist on it, if it wins I get a Grammy too, so I am pretty excited about that.

Great!!! So when you get a guitar in your hands... how do you feel?

Usually good!! Comfortable, at home, sometimes excited, sometimes inspired, often challenged.

And how do you manage to play so many different styles and remain true to those styles?

When I fall in love with a style of music I like to find out all that I can about it-like what actually makes it sound like it does? And when playing the styles, I respect each one, and don't want to impose anything that would not be tasteful onto the music. I am not against fusions of different styles, or ideas from one creeping into another, but I like those to be intentional, not just because someone has not really gotten into a style enough to know what it is.

You have a reputation for as Elton John says "Playing everything but the Kitchen sink...

Yes, I do play a lot of instruments! I usually want to learn how to play something if I like the sound of it...

I also would get bored in school band when I was young, and want to play different instruments to make it more fun and interesting for me.

I have just started playing the bouzouki onstage with my quintet, and that is an instrument that I have wanted to play for a long time. It is not so dissimilar to guitar, but it has its own voice and techniques certainly. I would love to learn the cimbalom too, but there are only so many hours in the day...

Incredible!!! Could you tell us, please, how you got involved with Elton and how you ended up recording and touring with him?

Chris Hillman was the lead singer in the Desert Rose Band, and his wife Connie worked for John Reid in Elton's management, so Elton was familiar with the band and really liked our first album. When it came time to premiere our 2nd album "Running", we did a show in LA at the Roxy that Elton attended, along with Bernie Taupin, Nicolette Larsen, Dave Edmonds, Stephen Stills, Bruce Hornsby, Rose Maddox, and other luminaries.

I met Elton briefly before the show, but after the show he burst into the dressing room and grabbed my hand, exclaiming "Brilliant guitar, fucking brilliant!!" and I was quite surprised, and pleased of course. Literally 6 years later he called me himself and asked if I would join his band to promote the "Made in England" album that had just been finished. Although I was flabbergasted, it actually took about a week of soul-searching to decide that I wanted to give up all the things I had going on, which were a lot, to take him up on the offer.

And have you been an Elton fan before?

Well, I was certainly aware of his music, and had actually sung and played "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" and "Island Girl" in bands myself when it was a hit. I also quite liked the "Blue Moves" double album and had heard all the classic hits on AM and FM radio, as they were staples while I was growing up in California. I remember especially liking Davey's guitar parts in the original version of "Candle in the Wind" and the song "Grey Seal" too.

Elton writes most of his songs in the studio, that’s it?

Yes, usually on his own to a drum pattern looped on a machine.

And how many songs you’d been recording for an albums session?

Although I did 2 tracks for the 'Love Songs" compilation ('No More Valentines" is probably my favorite work of my own on an EJ track) and the oddly-titled "One Night Only" live package, the only proper studio album i worked on was "The Big Picture". It seems like there were probably 16 tracks or so done for that one.

Remember some of the titles that didn’t see the light?

I think most of the tracks that didn't get used for the album have since been used as bonus tracks on CD singles, like "Big Man in a Little Suit" that was written for Billy Joel to sing, but I guess he didn't want to do it. There was another called "Wicked Games" that was quite a rocker, and one called "I Know Why I'm In Love With You" that I had quite an influence on the production, pushing it towards a Pet Sounds-era beach Boys sound when neither Chris Thomas or Elton turned up at the studio...Chris was mad at first when he heard it, but eventually we did finish it so I guess he ended up liking it OK, but not enough to include on the album!!

How it was the “Crop Circles” experience with Davey Johnstone and how it came the idea to both of you?

It was quite a natural thing, really. Davey and I liked playing together and creating music, and we did have a fair amount of time on the road to sit around with guitars and work things out. At the same time the Solid Air record label was featuring a series of CDs pairing up 2 acoustic guitar players, and Sony was promoting a new portable digital recording device, so it all came together really well and Guy Babylon pitched in to do an amazing job of the engineering and editing. He has an enormous amount of both talent and ability and it was a pleasure to work with him.

Will be another second part in the future, with Davey?

I don't know - I guess it depends on if the future throws us together again physically, because if we're in the same room with guitars in our hands, you can bet there will be some creative energy flying around!!

That should be great!!! Davey Johnstone was on tour in Chicago, in 2001, with Elton and Billy Joel when he learned of the tragic news about the dead of his son, Oliver. He returned home to be with his family, naturally. How did you notice about this tragedy? In the middle of the concert? You have to replace Davey, have you?

My last show as a full-time band member was the MSG shows when "One Night Only' was recorded in Oct 2000. I was immediately busy with solo tours, recordings, television shows, etc - kind of like before I started with Elton. It was in the Spring of 2001, and I was in LA getting ready to tape a live TV show, the "Academy of Country Music Awards Show" where I would perform live with a number of the top country acts. We had already rehearsed and done camera blocking, so all that was left was to do the performance the next day. I was also scheduled to do a duo tour of the UK with my good friend and legendary singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell the day after the TV filming.

After the rehearsal I was eating dinner at Terra Sushi with my wife Dixie when the phone rang. It was our dear friend Bob Halley with the horrendous news about Oliver, asking could I come and fill in for Davey. I said of course, that I had to work a few things out, but I would get there (to Chicago) as soon as I could. In utter shock, I called my friend John Hobbs who was the musical director for the TV show to say I couldn't be there the next day for the show. He understood completely and told me to go help my friend, and he would get my parts covered for the TV show. I then had to call Rodney and bail out of his tour at the last minute, and again he was amazingly understanding and as a father himself would do anything to help ease Davey's immense grief. I have to say that both John Hobbs and Rodney Crowell were heroes to me that day, and showed true friendship.

I actually got on the returning flight to Chicago that had brought Davey and Kay Johnstone home, and spent every spare minute rounding up my gear-guitars, amps, pedals, etc. Although I could certainly use Davey's gear, it would not be as comfortable for me as my own.
It was a very tough thing to do, to stand onstage in my good friend Davey's spot and play his parts, knowing why he was not there. In a way it was similar to when I filled in on bass for Bob Birch after his horrible accident in Montreal - invigorating in a musical sense, but very sad in a personal sense. In both cases, I felt very proud that my musical abilities could serve to help out my friends in their times of crisis, there is no better use of skills and talent than that.

John Jorgenson is known as one of the pioneers of the American gypsy jazz movement, your articles and lessons on gypsy jazz have appeared in prominent guitar magazines and you have given master classes around the country. You also tour with your John Jorgenson Quintet... But how do you define this style?

Gypsy jazz is a style first pioneered by gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his partner violinist Stephane Grappelli with their Quintet of the Hot Club of France in the 1930s. It is a very aggressive, romantic, melodic, virtuosic style that takes a lot of skill and physical ability to play. My Quintet also mixes in a lot of influence from Eastern Europe, Spain, Latin America and the Middle East, so there is a bit more of a world music flavor to my take on gypsy jazz. Just get one of my CDs and check it out, that is the best way to define it!

You introduced the Gitane DG-320 "Modele Jorgenson" 14th-fret D-hole, a Gypsy Jazz guitar. How it was the collaboration with Saga, in 1997?

I actually have 3 Signature model Saga guitars, the DG300, the DG320 and the DG330. They are all specifically for gypsy jazz, but have slightly different features, neck shapes and tones. They started coming out in 2004, and have done really well around the world. One of my friends, Greg Rich worked for Saga at the time, and I had seen one of their guitars that was quite impressive. I could see some room for improvement, so I told him my ideas and he suggested incorporating those ideas into a signature model, so we did.

What about your future projects, John?

I play about 100-120 shows around the world each year with my Quintet, so I will continue to do that for sure.

The next CD coming out is a collaboration with Orchestra Nashville, a very fine orchestra located in Nashville conducted by Paul Gambill. I have either composed or co-composed all but one of the pieces on the project, and that piece was commissioned for the project, so it is an entirely original collection of material unlike has ever been done before-gypsy jazz guitar with full orchestra in a classical setting. I am very excited about it, and the working title is "Istiqbal Gathering" which is roughly translated to "Welcome to a Gathering in the Future", as I envision music in the future to keep cross-pollinating to become even more universal than it is already.

I will also do 2 special concerts with the Grand Rapids Ballet, a fantastic company who will choreograph a whole program of my Quintet's music, and we will perform onstage with the dancers. It should be amazing!

Performing with your own band, John Jorgenson and Friends, playing all the music that has influenced you?

I do hope to play some shows with my electric band as well, we'll see how that goes. I do have a feeling that some projects that I have been brewing for a few years might start life this year, but I don't want to say too much more about that until they actually start to materialize.

Being involved in cinema again , as when you were playing the part of Django Reinhardt in Head in the Clouds movie?

I would love to do more work in films, musically, and even some more intensive acting work. So far I have only been guitar players on camera, it would be fun to have to be something else sometime. I really liked working with director John Duigan, and hope to have a chance to work with him again too.

Why did you leave Elton John's band?

I was originally asked by Elton to tour with him for 18 months, and that seemed like such a long time to me that as I wrote earlier I had a hard time committing to that much time away from all my other projects. Once I got to the end of the first touring season, I felt like more of a member of a big family and Elton invited me to stay as long as I wanted. Although it was an amazing ride, and I got to play not only with Elton but with many other great artists all over the world, I started to miss being able to play my own music and to challenge myself musically with more difficult and more guitar -oriented music. Finally after 6 years I really felt like I needed to get back on my own track, and even though I miss Elton, Davey, Clive, Bob, Guy, John and Nigel I am so happy to be playing my own music and getting the chance to do a variety of other things, like the Earl Scruggs album and the Brad Paisley cut "Clusterpluck" which is also nominated for a Grammy this year.

And we eltonites miss you too, John... As my friend BlueJeanBaby says... would you please please please please please please rejoin the Elton John Band, in the future?

As you know, I have been back a couple times for special occasions -when Oliver passed away, and when Davey's wife was giving birth a couple years later, and also to add pedal steel guitar to some songs on Peachtree Road. I very much doubt that I would ever rejoin full-time, as I would have too much to give up with my own band, etc, but I would certainly join up again for special occasions and I know that Elton knows he can call on me if he or the band needs me, and I will be there for them.

Oh, finally, could you tell me your five favourite Elton's songs in running order, for my AllSongsList?

That is a hard one, but here goes...

1. Tonight
2. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (like how I got 2 for 1 in there!!)
3. Where to Now, St. Peter?
4. Sixty Years On
5 No More Valentines (but of course I am a little prejudiced about this one...)

Thank you very much. Well, John, it's really an honour to had you in my blogsite. If you had good time doing this interview, I am really happy. I always have been a John Jorgenson fan, so imagine what it means for me to share my time with you. I wish you all the best for you and your loving people.

OK, Miquel, I hope the readers enjoyed it, and nice job with the questions, some of them I have not been asked before! Cheers

Cheers John, sure they did. Oh, before you go, I would like to give you a surprise... I have here three friends of you, they love you so much and they would like to say something about you...

Chris Hillman (from Desert Rose Band, pioneer of the genre known as “Country Rock”):

"John is an incredibly gifted artist, a wonderful singer/songwriter and has the best hair in country, jazz, rock and classical music. An honor and a pleasure to share the stage with him".

John Mahon (percussionist and backing vocalist for the Elton John Band):

"When I joined Elton's band in 1997 and met John Jorgenson I was floored by what an incredible musician he is. Not just a guitar player of course but Sax, clarinet, (which is incredible when you see his Gypsy Jazz band) pedal steel, banjo, mandolin, anything that twangs..... Great singer, songwriter, ... it goes on and on I suppose. I expect to maybe see him in Circque de Soliel balancing a couple of girls in the air! Then of course there is the music knowledge - he has an incredible knowledge of recordings and artists. Mostly though he is just a great person to be around. It would be nice to see more of him but we are at opposite ends of the country".

Charlie Morgan (drummer and percussionist):

I knew from the first moment we met in 1995 that he was someone really special. Despite the fact that he was recovering from a broken shoulder, his playing was amazing. Over the next few years I discovered that he was one of the most creative and talented people I have met in 3 decades of playing. Guitars, keyboards, saxes and clarinet: he has mastered them all, in a business where the best that most people can hope is to master one instrument! But, much more than all that, he is a true friend. I am honoured to call him such

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