John Ginty: They can’t take the organ away from me

John Ginty 8x10 Longtime sideman and session player John Ginty has long been known for his tasteful, adventurous work on the Hammond B3 organ.  Over the past fifteen years his soulful touch has graced over sixty albums, including albums by Bad Religion, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Santana, Matthew Sweet, Neal Casal, The Bridge, and Citizen Cope.  His keyboard skills are also in high demand for the inspired sound he can bring to any live setting.  He was an original member of Robert Randolph and the Family Band and has toured regularly with The Dixie Chicks, Santana, Jewel, Citizen Cope, and his own John Ginty Band.  Recently he has begun to play with the based Baltimore Band of Johns which is led by former Bridge guitarist/ singer Cris Jacobs and features Jake Leckie on upright bass, and John Thomakos on drums.  In addition to his work with the Band of Johns, Ginty has also maintained his usual busy session schedule as well as finding time to get out on the road with a number of bands.  In the midst of that typically full schedule Ginty found time to release his first solo album, Bad News Travels.


Born from an album he played on for blues-guitarist Albert Castigilia, Bad News Travels is a blast of gospel-tinged New Orleans flavored funk that can just as easily settle into a deep, bluesy groove as it can dive into a psychedelic-swirl of a Hammond B3 organ trip that can spin the off at any moment down some never before traveled musical path.  Ginty called on some of his musical friends, including Warren Haynes, Neal Casal, Martie Maguire, and Cris Jacobs among many others, to help out with the album. The addition of these guests helps each song develop a wholly unique personality that is all held together by the glue that is Ginty’s powerhouse playing.


While preparing to head out on a brief Canadian tour with the Dixie Chicks, Ginty checked in with Honest Tune to discuss the making of Bad News Travels.


Honest Tune: So how did the idea for Bad News Travels come about?

John Ginty:  It was kind of an accident really.  I have been a session guy my whole life.  I am on sixty or seventy records.  I spent a lot of time with Jewel, Robert Randolph and the Family band, and Citizen Cope.  I have always toyed around the idea of doing my own record, but it has just never been the right time, or it wasn’t the right material, and it was never the right situation.

Recently I did a record with a blues guy from Florida, Albert Castiglia at a recording studio in NJ (Showplace Recording Studios).  Ben Elliott the owner of the studio was like, “Man we got to do your record.  The timing is right now. We could get Albert to play on it.  You could use your session guy access to get some other players on it.”  And I thought the idea was really cool.  I had some Bad News Travelssongs I had written that really didn’t have a home and it all just came together.  We put together a list of demos and a list of special guests and I tried really hard to pair the piece with the right player.  It wasn’t necessarily about getting famous people, it wasn’t about any of that.  It was just a musical thing of like who would fit great on this and who would be great on that.

So I got Albert and he played on a bunch of songs and does a bunch of lead vocals.  I used Neal Casal from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood.  He is a great player.  I have played on all his records.  Cris Jacobs from Baltimore is on it.  Timing is everything.  He and I had just started doing the Band of Johns and it just seemed right to have him up.  I had a track that I thought would be perfect for him.  Warren Haynes has been a friend of mine for twenty-years and it was an honor to get him on the record.  And slightly difficult as he only had about 48 hours off of his schedule to come to the studio.  But we managed to jump through the hoops of fire we needed to get him on there.  It was just awesome.  Once again it was just a perfect track for him.  It took him out of his normal element a bit and I loved how he played on it.  Todd Wolfe is a label mate of mine, and a great blues guitar player.  I got Alecia Chakour a blues singer from Brooklyn.  I couldn’t be happier with all the guests on it.  Martie Maguire from the Dixie Chicks plays fiddle on one song.  I am actually playing keyboards with the Dixie Chicks right now.  We are leaving to go on tour next week, a tour of Canada.  I have been friends with Martie for a while now and I had a song that I thought fiddle would be great on.  So that is how all the guests showed up.


HT: How was it to go from being a sideman or session player to all of sudden being in charge?

JG:  It’s crazy man.  It’s so insane.   It’s an education that I wasn’t looking for and I didn’t necessarily want [laughs].  From the musical end it was a joy and I had a great producer leading the way.  Ben Elliot really led me through it.  I just gave up the control and worry to him.  Musically it was not a problem.  I would love to do it again.  But all the other end stuff, trying to get on the radio, and the press and selling it, all that stuff was never something I had to worry about.  But now it’s on my lap to get all that stuff done, so it has been a crazy education for me, especially with the music business on its ear right now.


HT:  It has to be a different feeling to go from being the guy on the side who just gets to play to the guy who has to be in charge and go do all the “other work” now.

JG:  It gave me a huge appreciation for what all these cats go through.  I also appreciate their help and advice.  You know Cris Jacobs has been up and back with this, first with The Bridge and now with his solo projects.  I have gotten a lot of great advice from these cats as well as their musical contributions.  I will say it is a lot of hard work, and it is kind of scary, and I don’t know all about this end of the music business, but it is also fun.  The record has been doing well.  It has been added to a lot of radio stations.  They play it on my local New Jersey big rock station.  I heard it the other day when I was I the truck.  To hear it on the radio is mind-blowing.  I have heard myself on the radio before, but it had always been someone else’s songs.



John GintyHT: You said lots of people gave you advice, was there one thing that really stuck out?

JG:  The one word that kept popping up was publicist.  I get that now.  It used to be we would be humping around for a record deal and things of that nature.  That’s not the case anymore.  The publicist can get you out there, and out there is the only place that happens because the record stores have closed.  You have to get out there and take it to the people, play the shows, go to the merch booth and sign your stuff and sell your records.  It’s kind of all on the artist right now.  The publicist was one thing everyone mentioned that would help.


HT:  Things have really changed with how you have to sell a record now.

JG:  We are kind of reinventing this thing as we are going along.  What every artist has to realize is that no matter how crazy the business side may get, you can always go to the town and play a show and sell your CD there.  You will always have that.  People kind of complain about ticket prices being high, but there is no place for a musician to go make money anymore.  I spend my days hunting down illegal downloads of my records, of which there are still many.  It has become a full-time job getting these things taken down from the internet.  It is stacked against the artist in this day and age.  So we just have to adapt and try and keep our chins up.  I can’t really complain though, this is what I picked to do.  They can’t take the organ away from me.  So as long as I have that I will get it done somehow.


HT:  Let’s talk about something fun then. You talked about taking it to the people. Do you have any plans to take these songs on the road?

JG:  Absolutely.  I got some commitments with the girls, the Dixie Chicks, so I got a hold up until the end of the year, but then we are talking about some different ideas and plans.  I have also been talking with all the cats on the record because I feel like there is safety in numbers and I feel it is really good idea for all of us to get together and do a multiple artist thing.  There are all types of idea.  The record has done so well it would just be crazy of me to not take it out to the people.  It’s on the radio in Hawaii!  Who am I to turn down Hawaii?


HT:  As the weather starts to get cold in the Northeast it only makes sense to go where it’s warm.

JG:  Exactly.  It would be irresponsible of me to not go to Hawaii [laughs].  Seriously though, next year I hope to have a tour together.


John Ginty & Cris JacobsHT:  Is there a track or song off the album that really stands out for you?

JG:  They all have their thing to it.  My personal favorite is one that is getting the least amount of attention, “Trinity.”  It’s the gospel song, the last one on the album, the one with Cris [Jacobs] on it.  I said to the band there is no way we can make Hammond B-3 record without putting a gospel song on it, it has to be there.  I had written this little thing and it was three different pieces and I couldn’t decide which one would be the song, so I glued all three together and it turned out to be this really cool thing and I love the way everybody played on it.  There is like a thousand tambourines going.  All the musicians picked up tambourines and we had a little church service in the studio.  It was the last track we cut.  It was the finish line.  That’s my personal favorite.  There is stuff about each song that is special and cool to me as well.  The sessions with Albert were totally live.  The way you hear it, it was just four guys looking at each other playing music.  I really love the way that came out.  Martie’s violin part is amazing.  Warren’s part is amazing.


HT: How long did the whole process to record the album take?

JG:  It took a couple of months to get it down.  We were recording it very quickly.  We would go in for two or three days and get four or five songs.  We were moving at a good pace in the studio, but it was really just a matter of scheduling.  I had to go to Austin to record Martie’s part.  I had to go to Connecticut to get Warren’s part.  We had to book a couple different studios.  There was some running around.  That took the longest.  That was longer than recording it.  You know we probably could have got the whole thing done in about ten days if we had been able to line up all the stars.  But it was definitely worth waiting for Martie and worth waiting for Warren, and worth waiting for Cris.  Once we had the idea for who would play on what track, it was just a matter of it will take as long as it takes.


Band of Johns



HT:  Did the process scare you away from wanting to do this again or did it entice you to want to jump right in and start working on another album?

JG:  I am into it man.  I think as long as people want to hear records like this then I would love to keep making them.  I don’t think I will ever be able to stop being a session guy, playing organ for other people because that is what I do and what I love to do.  I love playing with the Dixie Chicks. I love playing on Charlie Mars’ records.  It keeps it interesting and fun.  But this was an incredible, unique experience that is worth a follow up.  I can at least guarantee there will be one more.  Also my list of guests was longer than my list of songs, so I got some people up my sleeve for the next one as well.  I think it will be really fun.



HT: Finally, looking back was there one moment that was the ultimate highlight of the whole process that will always stay with you?

JG:  I will never forget the first ten notes that Warren Haynes played [on “Mirrors”].  When we got our sound together and he had listened to the track and he made a couple of notes.  We turned the lights down and we went in and it was the first time we were going to play the song and I said, “Ok, you ready?” And he said, “Yeah, I’m ready.”   I said, “Can you just play something with the piano, can you just dance around the intro?”  The first ten notes he played are the first ten notes you hear him play on the record.  They went right on the record from that very first take.  Those are ten notes I will never ever forget.  I am still a music fan at heart. I have loved the Allman Brothers for twenty-five, thirty years and I always go see them at The Beacon Theatre and to see Warren standing in front of me playing those notes, to my song, that is as good as it gets.  There is nothing that can top that.  That is as good as gets for me.