Jonny Lang began touring with Buddy Guy when he was barely 20 years old, and immediately began soaking up the elder statesman’s blues-drenched history.
Lang was a young gun, and Guy had been playing the blues since the 1950s, when he worked for the legendary Chess Records, making records with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson.
“You get in a room with Buddy and he just starts telling stories,” said Lang, 32. “I’ve known him for 12, 13 years, and I haven’t heard the same story twice.”
Lang realized one thing early on: You don’t challenge Buddy Guy to a cutting contest, where one guitarist tries to cut another down to size.
“It still hasn’t happened,” Lang said, laughing. “The smart guitar player just submits to Buddy immediately and follows his lead, because he will leave you in flames. It’s all fun for him, and he isn’t trying to cut anybody, but if you come at him with an attitude, he will leave you in a pile of ashes. And he can still do that at his age.”
Guy, 76, is back on the road with Lang, and they perform Tuesday as part of the Brown-Forman Midnite Ramble concert series at the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall.
Guy tours frequently, and his last album, 2010’s “Living Proof,” revealed that the fire hasn’t waned. His signature guitar style, a kind of barely controlled fury that makes effortless leaps to showy shtick before careening back to improbably aggressive outbursts, is so out there that it’s inaccurate to categorize him solely as a blues player.
Guy shares billing with Lang when they tour, but he’s the headliner. Lang has made five albums as a band leader, and Guy has cranked out dozens across six decades — it would have been seven decades if Leonard and Phil Chess hadn’t been stymied by how to market Guy’s solo material.
When Lang’s career began, he was considered a prodigy in some circles and a novelty act in others. He was only 12 when he began performing and made his recording debut at 14. He was signed to a major label at 15 and to celebrate his 16th birthday released “Lie to Me,” which went platinum.
By the time he was 22, Lang had three major-label records and an established reputation, making music that had become a mix of blues, rock, soul and early R&B. But his personal life was in shambles. He had become a touring musician when most kids were in high school, and the lifestyle had led to serious issues with drug and alcohol abuse.
At age 24, while he was dealing with the death of his girlfriend’s father, Lang’s life was transformed. He was planning on getting high with a friend when he learned of the death, and was almost violently seized by a force that left him bathed in a profound peace. Over the course of a couple of days, he realized that he had been saved despite a lifetime of dismissing God and religion.
The resulting album, “Turn Around,” added a gospel element to Lang’s sound but was by no means a contemporary Christian album, although it did win a Grammy as best rock or rap gospel album. The songs dealt directly with his new life without coming across as preachy.
“Over the years, I’ve definitely been through things personally that have really focused me on what’s really important, the true priorities, and all of that makes it into your songwriting,” he said. “You can only talk about things from a learned perspective.
“The stuff I’ve been through the last 10 years have made it easier to relate to others and to write songs that could maybe reach a few more people, instead of just ‘Baby, baby’ love songs, you know,” he said, laughing. “Those are the backbone of music, pretty much, but I wanted to get into some other issues.”
Lang is writing a new album but isn’t ready to debut any of the songs. At Tuesday’s show he’ll concentrate on his catalog and then sit back and watch Guy work.
“Sometimes he’ll ask me up and we’ll get to play together,” Lang said, “but you never know when that’s going to happen.”