Acclaimed music journalist (and host of WXNA FM Nashville’s Peter Rodman Goes Off) Peter Rodman had thought he’d seen it all after six decades following the music industry. He certainly wasn’t expecting a worldview-changing event when he set off to see the John Jorgenson Quintet play an insider private music industry event at Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel. What follows is Rodman’s review of an evening that reminded him you should never underestimate what’s in store when “the greatest guitar player on the planet” decides to show you how it’s done:
PASSING THE TORCH OF GUITAR SUPERNOVAS
By Peter Rodman
I’ve known John Jorgenson since the 1980s…mostly through Chris Hillman (and his Desert Rose Band), and in later years, seen him work with Elton John, and a wonderful project he did in tribute to John Loudermilk, among other things. I was always aware he had these “other” groups and musical interests, and always knew he was a great guitarist.
But last night I saw a performance that, in my mind, puts him among the greatest of all time. Mind you, I have seen guitarists of all kinds, all over the world, over the past six decades…
But this! This was something extra special. The John Jorgenson Quintet is devoted to blending the sound and feel of ‘musics’ from all over the world, with no flashbombs, no special effects, and no pedals, to speak of–just sheer virtuosity.
Each player is a monster in his own right.
And at the epicenter is a man so devoted to his craft, he flew from Switzerland to Italy to New York to Nashville (having just left Elton) just to play a FREE show, at Nashville’s uber-elegant Hermitage Hotel.
It was unbelievable.
His tributes to Django Reinhardt were played as well as Django himself ever played. The same guy who knocked my socks off pickin’ “Hello Trouble” and “Love Lies Bleeding” for Hillman and Elton, respectively, sat there in a simple folding chair with a variety of acoustic guitars and claimed the mantle, at least for me: John Jorgenson is currently the virtuoso of our time.
When time came for an actual Django song, John observed that much of the master’s work had been fretted with only two fingers, as Django had actually lost the other two.
So what did he do? He (John) learned to play them exactly as had Reinhardt–with just those two fingers! And last night, a stunned crowd of (let’s admit it) somewhat jaded, seen-it-all music people (more than a few of them worn out from another Summer NAMM convention) were obviously seduced, enchanted, and aghast…in that order.
This was a novel gift unlike any concert I’ve seen in ages.
I still remember my favorite “day” on the Mickey Mouse Club, during the 1950s…in black and white, on little round TV sets.
It was “Anything Can Happen” day.
Last night, John Jorgenson took us all on a world tour of music, stepping through time and space as though he’d found the key to musical bliss itself, and couldn’t wait to share it.
I feel lucky to have been among a few hundred souls who got to take that ride.
NOW I know why he’ll do six gigs in six different continents–and six different configurations, styles, set-ups, and settings–in almost as few days! This is not some kind of show-off session for him, as it often is with flat-pickers. (And if it ever was for John, it’s not anymore.) And it’s not about money, or even recognition. (Believe me he’s doin’ fine, on both counts.)
This is a man who has finally found his “mission” in full, and that is an almost evangelical passion, to spread his (mostly) wordless love of the guitar, to one and all. His is an ecumenical appreciation for all different cultures, which has in turn elevated his playing, his presence, and his versatility to a whole new level.
I realize I’ve just used several terms usually associated with crusty ol’ religious organizations, and these days that can have a jarring, backwards-sounding ring.
But that’s not it, at all.
What this IS, is the passion of a true Guitar God, generously sharing his own breakthroughs, with the knowledge that the center of our human experience is to achieve excellence, and then share it as much and as often as you can, while you still can.
So I’m gonna say it out loud, once more:
Let it be known that as of July 19, 2019…John Richard Jorgenson is, in my opinion, the greatest guitar player on the planet. The good news is, he probably HOPES somebody just as inspired comes along soon, to take the crown.
~Peter Rodman–July 20, 2019