Whitesburg KY

Chris Janson shows why he’s considered future star

PERFORMING IN WHITESBURG – Nashville musician Chris Janson (center) plays the harmonica during his concert at Summit City last week. Also pictured are drummer Steve Sinatra and bassist Misa The Bear. (Eagle photo)

Chris Janson has written songs with Bobby Braddock, whose "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" are among the greatest country music songs ever written. He’s also penned tunes with Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan of the rock band Guns N’ Roses.


When Janson performed in concert in Whitesburg last week, he was wearing the same turquoise bracelet Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist Leon Wilkison wore on the cover of the original Street Survivors album in 1977. He was also sporting the large ring Waylon Jennings was wearing when the photo gracing the cover of Honky Tonk Heroes was shot in 1973.

As the 22-year-old Janson told an enthusiastic audience at Summit City on May 15, he really is a lot country and a lot rock and roll.

"I grew up playing classic rock and classic rock some more and then I got into punk music like the Sex Pistols," Janson said from the stage of the musical hot spot located on Main Street. "Then I decided I’d start playing country music and threw all that stuff in the middle of it."

Helped by a tight three-piece band, Janson, an outstanding guitar player who is also unbelievably talented on harmonica, was able to display nearly all of his musical influences during a show that lasted well over two hours.

And a show it was. The lanky Janson has a stage presence that makes it easy to see why some critics have compared his performances to a combination of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and Hank Williams Jr. Just minutes into the Whitesburg show, it was also easy to see why the famous film director Johnathan Demme ("Silence of the Lambs") asked Janson to be part of "Heart of Gold," his recent movie about Neil Young. Like Janson says, however, you can compare him to anyone you want, but the only person he sounds like is Chris Janson. And that’s a good thing.

Mindful of the fact that he would be opening an arena show for Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams Jr. the next night in Huntington, W.Va., the Nashville based Janson, who grew up seven miles from St. Louis on the Mississippi River, took the opportunity to open the Whitesburg show with what he called his "singer-songwriter stuff."

Of the first four songs Janson performed – "Hold Me," the brand new songs "When You Make Up My Mind Let Me Know" and "You Cried to Me Over Him," and "She Left Me Still In Love," co-written by the aforementioned Braddock – it isn’t hard to imagine one or all of them being at the top of the country music charts.

The same could be said for Janson’s standout, "I Can Live Without You," a breakup song he said is "straight to the heart," and his other, more high-energy songs such as "All That I Am" and "If I Was Mean As You."

Janson and his band also excelled on the rocker "Shoot Off the Locks," a song which encourages the acceptance of a wide range of musical styles. Written by Janson and Stradlin and McKagan, the former Guns N’ Roses members, the song asks "what’s wrong with punk rockers driving pick-ups" and points out that "Johnny Cash was wearing black long before Sid Vicious."

Other highlights included covers of the Muddy Waters/ Willie Dixon blues classic "Hoochie Coochie Man" and a high-octane version of Johnny Cash’s "Folsom Prison Blues," both of which highlighted Janson’s work on the harmonica and, in the case of "Folsom," his ability to excel on a Fender Telecaster guitar.

Another of the evening’s standouts was the band’s cover of the Rodney Crowell-penned "Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This," which Janson jokingly said would make the audience forget all about the version made famous by Waylon Jennings.

Janson praised members of the Summit City audience for their "courtesy" in welcoming his new singer-songwriter songs with the high level of enthusiasm they gave his other work. The combination of Janson’s incredible level of talent and his willingness to explain to the audience what he was playing and why he was playing it, the concert served as a crash course for those who were previously unfamiliar with an artist whose career appears to have no limits on how far it could go.

It’s a safe bet to say that everyone who attended last week’s show is looking forward to a return engagement. It’s also a safe bet to say they’ll be dragging some first-timers along with them.

The band members accompanying Janson were Dirk Weaver on lead guitar, Misa The Bear on bass, and Steve Sinatra on drums. Janson said it was only the second time the band had performed together in a live setting like Summit City.

If you want to hear some of Chris Janson’s music, visit his MySpace page at www.myspace.com/ chrisjanson.

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