John Antonopoulos was born in Malden, MA in 1952 and from day one his last name was invariably getting mispronounced; “it’s always been Johnny A. since age eight,” he explains. Johnny started out playing drums at six years old and when he reached eleven in 1964, and heard The Beatles, his parents bought him a $49 Lafayette guitar. And the rest is history. In the seventies, he formed The Streets and the band had a lot of local radio hits including “What Gives” which made it to the top of the charts at Boston’s premier radio station WBCN “The Rock Of Boston.” They toured nationally with Aerosmith and Bob Seger and also competed in the first WBCN Rumble in 1979. In 1980, Johnny formed Hidden Secret and this group also had a string of local radio hits including “No More Lonely Nights” which was #1 on the WBCN charts for twenty six weeks. His sound and style often recalls Danny Gatton as well as some aspects of Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Chet Atkins, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino and Les Paul. He uses elements of rock, jazz and blues with an identifiable use of the whammy bar. “I think it adds a texture not unlike a vocalist finishing a note with a nice natural vibrato. From my perspective, it also emotes a certain warmth to the phrasing.”
In 1986, the Boston music scene was red hot with a deep and clear division between main stream rock and punk rock. This love/ hate relationship came to a huge head when Johnny A.’s band Hearts On Fire made it to the finals of that year’s WBCN Rumble where their multi- influenced rock sound competed against the pure punk of Gang Green. After that legendary local win was won by the punksters Johnny noted: “I don’t think the best band won, I think the tightest band on that particular night might have won. I had broken up Hearts On Fire months before that show and only put the band back together for that performance at the request of WBCN. My heart wasn’t in it, and as a band we were out of shape.” All these decades later, people still take sides and passionately talk of being at that show when the only thing that mattered in our world was which was better music; mainstream or punk?
For the next few years he played as a sideman with Santana percussionist Mingo Lewis as well as a brief time with Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug Clifford. Then it was on to Delaney & Bonnie and Derek And The Dominos keyboardist Bobby Whitlock’s band before becoming the guitarist and music director for The J. Geils Band front man Peter Wolf. He played on Wolf’s albums and also co- produced one of them (Long Line, 1996 which received four stars from Rolling Stone) as well as joining him on several world tours. In 1999, Johnny A. launched his solo career and independently released his debut CD Sometime Tuesday Morning. Soon after, he signed a licensing deal to re- release the album with Steve Vai’s label and “Oh Yeah” became the #1 single on charts across the U.S. This was the first time in a decade that an instrumental achieved the top spot on radio charts and the CD went on to sell over a hundred thousand copies.
In 2003, Gibson Custom Guitar released the Johnny A. Signature Model Guitar designed to the artist’s specifications. To this day it is one of the company’s most successful signature guitars. In 2004, he released his second album, Get Inside, on Vai’s label. Warner Brothers released a Johnny A. instructional DVD Taste. Tone. Space in 2006 and the next year saw Gibson bring to the market a second Johnny A. signature guitar; The Johnny A. Standard. A live DVD/ CD set recorded at Sculler’s Jazz Club in Boston, One November Night, was put out in 2010 the same year he was honored and named the Blues Artist Of The Year at the Boston Music Awards. His most recent release, Driven, came out in 2014 and the disc is his engineering debut as well as having him mixing, producing and playing all the instruments on all the tunes. “I wrote sixteen songs for that album, put a recording studio in my home. I arranged, produced and engineered all the songs and played all the instruments on all the songs. So in a way that was my first complete solo album.” Later the same year Gibson released a new version of their Johnny A. Standard. All three versions are currently still under production. On December 14, 2014 Johnny A. was inducted into the Boston Music Hall Of Fame at The Boston Music Awards.
In 2015, Johnny A. joined The Yardbirds following in the footsteps of previous guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page and they have been on a world tour ever since. “I have very eclectic, varied tastes,” Johnny A. says, “I love melody and I love inspired, passionate players.” Today, Johnny A. himself is one of the most inspired and passionate players on the planet.
(by AJ Wachtel)
Published on December 28, 2012