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Turn Around: The Transformation of Jonny Lang
By Amy Hammond Hagberg
Jonny Lang has been called a blues guitar prodigy, a virtuoso, and a once-in-a-generation blues artist. His debut solo album, _Lie to Me_, was recorded when he was just 15 years old. It went platinum, as did the following year’s release, _Wander This World_. Lang spent his teenage years with guitar legends like B.B. King and Buddy Guy and toured almost non-stop with the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Sting. Altogether, he has recorded five albums and earned a Grammy nomination.
Catapulted into the music spotlight when he was only 13, critics and fans were astounded by Lang’s soulful playing and gravelly vocals – he sounded more like a 40-year-old blues veteran than a North Dakota farm boy.
His first band was called “Jonny Lang and the Big Bang.” For two years, they played gigs all over the Midwest. Then they had the opportunity of a lifetime. The band headed down to a Minneapolis nightclub called Bunkers to take part in a showcase event for labels scouting new acts. Lang was snapped up and signed as a solo artist by A&M Records.
The excitement and pressure of being with a major label definitely changed things for Lang. “I was on the road constantly, playing with musicians twice my age in places where they check your ID at the door. But it didn’t matter how old I was because I was the headliner,” he said.
Lang grew up far too quickly, “I got involved with a lot of ‘adult’ activities very young... I joined the band and started drinking, started smoking cigarettes... By the time I was probably 17, I was smoking two packs a day – I was an alcoholic by that time as well,” he remembered. By the end of his teens he was smoking a lot of marijuana, doing ecstasy, hallucinogens and many other drugs.
Full to the brim with partying and performing, Jonny had no room for God. Admittedly, he was turned off to church and didn’t particularly like the rules that went along with being a Christian, “I wasn’t really at a point where I was interested in being accountable for my actions.”
Instead, he walked down several other, less acceptable, spiritual paths. “I started getting involved with other religions; I guess witchcraft for lack of a better term... I had experiences and saw things, but I didn’t know it was bad at that time... I thought, ‘this is where the power’s at, this is for real.’”
Then when he was 16, Lang started dating his future wife, Haylie, whom he’d met while on tour in California. Lang became good friends with her family, especially her father, Cliff. The couple broke up for a period of time, but when Cliff became sick with cancer and Hepatitis C, Lang paid him a visit. One night while he was there, Lang went out with a friend to get high. They went to his friend’s apartment, but before they had a chance to do anything, the phone rang. It was Haylie’s mom informing him that Cliff had died. “Honestly, I was more worried about interacting with Haylie and her family than I was about Cliff actually passing away,” said Lang.
But there was no choice. While he was walking out in the hallway of the apartment building to head back to the house, Lang was suddenly hit in the stomach by the most incredible force, ultimately spreading throughout his entire body. “I had this soundness of mind and this extraordinary peace that I just couldn’t explain.” In his mind, Lang tried to find a natural explanation for it… He certainly never thought it might have something to do with God.
When he got back to the house, everybody was just beside themselves. “I was not the kind of person who could deal with those kinds of emotions. But whatever had happened to me in that apartment hallway gave me a special wisdom to handle it,” he recalled. “Everything I said was the perfect counsel.”
As the coroner was removing Cliff’s body, he and Haylie went out to the backyard. Then something absolutely supernatural occurred and he started shaking in his chair. “It was like somebody grabbed my shoulders and shook me forcefully back and forth,” he remembered. “Yet at the same time, I felt total peace. I heard Jesus say to me, ‘You don’t have to have this if you don’t want it.’ But I wanted it more than anything I’d ever wanted in my whole life.” Lang fell to the ground and gave his life to Christ.
Jonny Lang has made a complete turnaround. Miraculously, he was completely healed of his addictions, “From then on, I had absolutely zero cravings for the drugs, the alcohol or the tobacco. The best recovery program in the world can’t claim that,” he said.
Lang is once again in the limelight with a renewed vision and a shift in priorities. His latest recording, aptly titled _Turn Around_, chronicles his incredible spiritual journey and is due out in September 2006. “With this album I want to focus, more than ever before, on my purpose in life,” he explained. “I’ve been so incredibly blessed. My wife and I just had our fifth anniversary. I get to do what I love for a living. But it wasn’t so long ago that I was spiraling downward in a lot of ways, until God touched my life and set me on the right track. I feel a huge debt to give glory back to Him for everything He has done for me.”
Jonny Lang’s complete testimony is featured in my new book, How Do You Know He’s Real: Celebrity Reflections About True Life Experiences with God (Destiny Image).
Amy Hammond Hagberg is a frequent contributor to numerous publications around the world. Her first book, How Do You Know He's Real: Celebrity Reflections on True Life Experiences with God (Destiny Image) was released in April 2006. The first in a planned three-book series, it is a collection of testimonies from well-known athletes, musicians and actors on how they know God is real. The second installment, God Unplugged, is geared toward youth and will be released in November 2006. For more information visit her website www.hesreal.com.