FARGO — As he gets closer to his 40th birthday, Jonny Lang’s career has hit a “Red Light.”
The singer and guitarist’s manager, Steve Karas, announced in a news release Tuesday morning, Jan. 12, that due to concerns over the health of Lang’s voice, all of his upcoming appearances were canceled.
Dropping dates during a pandemic is something all artists are doing, but Karas’ statement put the future of the blues/rock artist’s livelihood in question.
“Per doctor’s orders, Jonny Lang will be canceling all confirmed appearances,” the release stated. “Over the course of the past year, medical challenges with his voice have not improved. There is hope for a natural recovery at some point in the future but until progress is witnessed no future plans will be initiated. He is thankful for the support of his fans over the past two plus decades, and hopes to be in the position to return to the stage should he retain the ability to perform at a level his global audience has enjoyed night in and night out. As he navigates these challenges, further guidance will be offered at an appropriate time in the future.”
Responding to follow-up questions, Karas didn't offer specific details and declined an interview request with Lang, a Fargo native.
"As I have a keener sense of how we are approaching the next 12-24 months, I’ll come back to you," the manager stated.
According to his Facebook page, Lang had over 30 shows lined up, starting on Jan. 20.
His health problems started before the coronavirus outbreak. In early January 2020, a two-part tweet with the headline, “Announcement Regarding January Shows,” stated that those dates, “have been impacted by a physical health issue. Jonny Lang will recover, but in the interests of long term well-being the prudent move is to reschedule where possible.”
There was no follow-up on what the issue was or whether it was resolved.
Fargo-based concert promoter Jade Nielsen of Jade Presents said that for a singer to start performing in bars in their mid-teens could take its toll on a voice.
As celebrated as he is for his guitar playing, Lang has also been praised for having a voice that sounds older than he actually is. Lang will turn 40 on Jan. 29.
Nielsen has worked with Lang often throughout the years, most recently booking him at the Fargo Theatre in 2018. The year before, he brought Lang and fellow guitar legend Buddy Guy to Moorhead's Bluestem Center for the Arts.
“He’s continued to be a great draw and the shows are always phenomenal,” Nielsen says.
He adds that while Lang hasn’t lived in the Fargo-Moorhead area for about 25 years, “he’s still considered one of our own.”
Born Jon Gordon Langseth Jr., Lang was raised in Fargo and started playing guitar at age 12, taught by Ted Larsen of the Bad Medicine Blues Band. Lang would join the group, renamed Kid Jonny Lang and The Big Bang.
The group would move to Minneapolis where Lang was signed as a solo act by A&M Records. His debut, “Lie to Me,” was released the day before his 16th birthday. The title track became his signature tune, and the album went platinum.
In 1998 he released his sophomore album, "Wander this World," which garnered his first Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
The following year, he opened for The Rolling Stones at the Fargodome.
“It was really nice of the Rolling Stones to close for me when I came to town,” Lang joked in a 2017 interview with Forum News Service.
As his star rose, he struggled with substance abuse. He overcame his problems, became a Christian and in 2001 married Haylie Johnson. The couple has five children.
His 2003 album showed the influence R&B had on him, evident in the single, “Red Light.” In 2006, his fifth studio album, “Turn Around,” won a Grammy for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album.
Lang has released two more studio albums, including 2013’s “Fight for My Soul,” which hit stores the same day he played the Fargo Theatre.
In an interview with Forum News Service at that time, Lang stated he was “definitely not a blues artist,” but rather the product of many musical influences.
“I see myself as just somebody who loves so many different kinds of music, and any one of those could come out in my songwriting at any time and surprise me along the way,” he said.