John Jorgenson’s one of those guitarists with an astonishing facility, a modern performer capable of firing off lightning-fast Danny Gatton licks without a second thought, or of mastering Django Reinhardt licks using only two fingers. If memory serves, he once told me that he glued a finger or two to his palm, rendering them unusable (as were Reinhardt’s fingers, due to scarring from a fire). Jorgenson did this when he was tapped to play the guitar parts for the soundtrack of the Reinhardt biopic Head in the Clouds. It was seen as a step toward authenticity. But Jorgenson is good at mimicking just about anything else he sets his mind to. His gig credits include Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Earl Scruggs, Luciano Pavarotti — pretty much anybody.
I’ve never thought of Jorgenson as a blood-lusty rocker, what with his squeaky-clean image, but he did back Elton John for half a dozen years, and he cofounded a rocking Fender Telecaster guitar band called the Hellecasters. He likewise played in the Desert Rose band with an ex–San Diegan named Chris Hillman. Jorgenson is currently touring behind a pair of new records on which he plays every kind of music, from rock to classical to bluegrass. He also sings and plays clarinet.
But I wonder what Jorgenson really sounds like. I’m not referring to his tone or to his chops or such. This is more a thought about what personal music may be inside his heart. Does he ever play from that sacred space? I think listeners are so dazzled with the parlor-trickery of his guitar that I doubt anyone has ever required him to. By the end of a day, can an audience even tell the difference? And does anyone care? Likely not. He is fretboard perfection. He shreds. And in most circles, that’s good enough.
John Jorgenson Quintet: Acoustic Music San Diego, Saturday, January 26, 7:30 p.m. 619-303-8176. $22/$49.