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Down and Dirty with G. Love: Jack Johnson’s Rig

"As I write this, I’m on the plane from Recife to Porto Allegre in Brazil. I’m down here on a nationwide Brazilian tour with one of the most humble cats and unassuming rock stars I’ve ever met.

I first met Jack Johnson in 1998. We were introduced through a mutual photographer friend named Scott Soens. Scott mentioned that a friend of his named Jack Johnson was a filmmaker and songwriter who, he thought, I should meet. So one day, before I headed to my producer T. Ray’s studio in Malibu, California, Jack, Scott and I had a surf and a jam.

We traded songs for an hour or two, and I was amazed at how great all of his songs were. I especially liked a tune called “Rodeo Clowns.” Jack was utterly relaxed and natural in his approach, his vocal delivery was melodic and smooth and his guitar playing was simple yet profound. We had a good jam, and all I could think was, damn, that guy is really good.

I needed one more song to record. I felt that “Rodeo Clowns” could be a good song for me to cut. I played Jack’s demo for T-Ray, and he concurred. I called Jack and we agreed to cut “Rodeo Clowns” as a collaboration the following day.

"Rodeo Clowns" ended up being the single of my fourth record, Philadelphonic. The release boosted my career and gave Jack a firm foothold in the industry. He set off running and never looked back. Now he is one of the top record-selling and touring acts worldwide. Pretty cool …

Check out Jack’s unique sense of chord movement. Check out the “Rodeo Clowns” tab here.

Here it is the Topanga Ranch Canyon Motel where Jack and I jammed the first day.

We have continuously collaborated and toured since that first day jamming at the Topanga Canyon Ranch Motel and the more I watch Jack onstage, rehearse, write and jam with him, the more I see his genius. As a singer and a guitar player Jack’s biggest asset is melody. I’ve really come to recognize him as a genius of melody. Effortless melody. He doesn’t push, he doesn’t strain. At times it seems like he isn’t even trying but in fact he always is and his command of guitar and his voice is profound.

As a guitar player, I think Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles heavily influence Jack. Most of his chords are basic bar chords. It’s very simple stuff at the heart of it, but it’s the way he puts it all together. Jack has a very unique approach to chordal movements and he sprinkles the movement with tasty melodic licks.

The man knows how to make hits. Every song is full of musical and vocal hooks. Jack’s lyrics, as well, are so thoughtful. He is one of those artists who can write a song that makes you think about your life. You feel he may have even written it about you!

I’ve always been impressed with Jack’s unique approach to getting his acoustic guitars to sound so good on recordings and on stage. Jack plays guitars made by an Australian guitar maker Cole Clark. Cole Clark was originally with Maton Guitars, but he went solo.

Jack’s acoustics are solid and dialed-in perfectly. He runs his guitars through Fender Twins for a very clean, present and unique tone. He also uses a ’60s Gibson 335 for his main electric on stage. I’m telling you, and I can’t stress it enough, Jack doesn’t get much credit for his guitar work, but he is one of the best. Check out my friend Mike Hannigan’s blog, where he ran down the schematics of Jack’s rig here.

I’ve always thought that anybody can make it in music. If you’ve got a lil’ rhythm, some chords and something original to say, you might just be the next big thing.

So, write hits, be thoughtful, be smooth and keep jamming.

See you next week on Down and Dirty!

Thanks- G”

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