Johnny A. was 6 when he first started playing the drums. When he was 9 he got his first paying gig. And when he was 11 he switched to guitar, a switch that has allowed him to spend a lifetime doing something he loves and delighted legions of fans for more than 50 years.
Johnny A., former guitarist and band leader for J. Geils' frontman Peter Wolf, who can make a guitar sing like a virtuoso vocalist, will bring his unique blend of blues, jazz, country and rock to the Rochester Opera House Saturday for a show that will feature a mix of songs from his new album Driven, plus a Beatles-tribute medley to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of their first American tour.
Johnny A., who grew up in Malden Mass., and now lives in southern New Hampshire, said this will be his first trip to the ROH, and he's looking forward to it.
"I was looking at it in pictures, and it looks pretty cool," he said in a phone conversation on Tuesday with The Lebanon Voice.
This is one concert at which there will be no singing. Johnny A. used to sing, but when he was with Peter Wolf he developed a bronchial infection and his voice never recovered.
Now he lets his guitar do the singing. And boy does his guitar have a good voice.
He cites the Beatles and Everly Brothers as early influences. When it comes to guitarists he looks up to, the first out of his mouth is Jimmy Hendrix. He's also a big George Harrison fan.
Johnny A. played with a host of notable musicians, including Santana percussionist Mingo Lewis, Credence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug Cliffard and Derek & the Dominos keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, before launching his solo career in 1999 with his first album Sometime Tuesday Morning, which sold more than 90,000 copies..
He said when he was playing with bands, his style usually helped dictate the music, so going solo wasn't that hard a transition.
"When I had my own bands, I was the principal songwriter and arranger," he said. The biggest difference (with going solo) is you take on all the financial risk."
It's been a risk that's paid rewards.
In his fourth solo album, Driven, Johnny A. took his solo career up a notch, playing all the instruments, dubbing all the tracks and doing all the engineering and producing.
"Some songs had just one (track), others had also bass, drums and keyboards," he said.
That's right; he can do some keyboards, too.
He won't be alone at the ROH on Saturday, though. He'll bring along a rhythm guitarist, a keyboardist and a drummer.
Look for him to do a lot of stuff from Driven, which is all his except for one cover, a melodically mesmerizing rendition of the Bee Gees, "To love somebody."
To read more about Johnny A. go to http://johnnya.com.
Johnny A. performs Saturday at the ROH at 8 p.m. For tickets click here.