John Jorgenson is one of the hottest purveyors of Gypsy-Jazz in the USA. He has had a long-standing love affair with Django Reinhard going back to the days when he played at Disneyland as a youngster. The guy is a monster, not only on guitar, but also 8 or 9 other instruments. I had the pleasure of seeing his Gypsy quintet a few years ago in NYC and they were great! It was really cool to be sitting 6 feet away and watching John because I’ve heard his playing and back in the day I read about his complete command of the guitar in magazines. He did not disappoint at this show and he is also a really cool dude. A gentleman. Also, he was playing his signature Gitane DG-320 Modele John Jorgenson, which is the gypsy-style Selmer I have (and I love my DG-320!!). It was awesome to watch him tear it up on that guitar and also great that he was using something he endorsed. Not everyone does that you know? Here is an online lesson he did with Acoustic Guitar.com and below is one of the songs from the show, Ghost Dance.
John has been a guitar hero for a long time and last week while I was spending a few hours on Youtube (I LOVE THE TUBE) I remembered when I first heard about him with The Desert Rose Band and The Hellecasters. Both of these bands and John won so many awards he probably has a room in his house set aside for trophies and accolades. I was always a fan of The Byrds and would definitely list them as one of the best and most influential American bands ever. Chris Hillman, who was the bass player/vocalist in The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, formed the The Desert Rose Band with John and Herb Pederson in 1985 and a string of hits and rave reviews followed. The DRB is what I think Country Music should sound like as I’ve always partial to what people in the 1960s — The Byrds, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and many others did with country to get it out of the Opry and merge it with blues and rock and roll. The Desert Rose Band have that kind of vibe and manage to avoid the excesses that turned modern Country Music into… I don’t know what. Of course, one thing all of the above bands had or have in common — great guitar picking! The DRB had two great pickers, JJ and steel player JayDee Maness, who is easily one of the best in the business.
The Hellecasters were also astounding and I remember reading guitar mags in the early/mid 80s and they won every category not won by Eddie Van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughan during those years. John, Will Ray and Jerry Donahue actually got together because Michael Nesmith (yes that Michael Nesmith) wanted them to do an album as a gag. Nesmith actually released their first two records on his label and guitar players everywhere were like WTF? John was in his REALLY BIG HAIR period here and looks like a total rock star. Of course he rocks the hell out of his caster, as they all do, hence, the name.
John has also played for a lot of really big stars like Elton John, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams Jr., Barbra Streisand, Luciano Pavarotti and many others. As I said earlier, he can play a whole ton of instruments, is a REALLY NICE guy and tells really cool stories. When I saw him he played Benny Goodman style clarinet on a song he had recorded with Peter Frampton called Souvenirs de nos Peres. That is the first of the final two videos below (it’s a little hard to watch because it’s sideways). But John gets a nice sound on the clarinet and it’s a really cool song courtesy of Peter Frampton. The second video is John with Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty sometime in the 1990s playing Mr. Tambourine Man. John is obviously an in-demand guy and a player at home in just about any situation. He has certainly produced a TON of great music over the years and is very generous about sharing his knowledge with other players. Obviously Gypsy Jazz is a really big part of what he does now and if you have a chance to see his band, I recommend going. He brings in a lot of other music and influences, but manages to retain the fun, swinging vibe that is the essence of the music. Also, follow that link above for a Gypsy Jazz lesson or search for some of his other stuff and GET YOUR SWING ON!