Retro-fresh rockers Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights are seeing stars these days.
They went from jamming at small Fort Worth-Dallas dives not so long ago to signing a major record deal at Atlantic, releasing an album, touring with AC/DC, ZZ Top, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and appearing on national television.
The 25-year-old Tyler is living a dream that began when he was a teenager in Lewisville banging away on an electric guitar and wondering if he had the chops to make it big.
“There’s two levels — the local level where you can be a success and be paying your bills and working other jobs; I did that for two years,” he said. “But if you want to try to move into different areas of the country and reach new and more people you have to start over in those new cities just like you started when you were local. We can do great in Dallas and make plenty of money but if we go up to Wisconsin we’re the new guys in town. It’s like starting over again. But that’s okay. We knew what we were getting into when we got into it.”
Leaping to that next level hasn’t jaded him. Tyler still got a major buzz when the Northern Lights were pegged to tour with a legendary Texas rock trio.
“We were playing in Little Rock opening for ZZ Top in a pretty big amphitheater that seats 5,000 or 6,000,” Tyler said. “We’re on stage doing our sound check, jamming some bluesy stuff and out walks [Top guitarist] Billy Gibbons and he just sits on the stage watching us jam. We didn’t stop, we kept going but I almost couldn’t pay attention to what we were playing anymore because I was so surprised he was listening. Those guys are really cool. Their wives and dogs are all out on the road with them.”
ZZ Top was a blast to hang with, he said, and Tyler memorialized the tour by having Gibbons autograph a 1973 Fender Telecaster.
“Of all the bands we’ve done shows with, they’re the coolest as far as being back stage,” Tyler said. “They’re in their 60s and still doing their thing.”
Tyler also got pumped after TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel bragged on the band after their April 8 performance and invited them to return for another show. Playing for three or four minutes on national TV was a challenge but Tyler relishes a good challenge.
“You’ve got a lot of cameras in your face and it’s a much different experience,” he said. “When you’re performing for an audience its easier to zone out and feel the music but when you’re playing with three or four cameras five feet away from your face it makes you more nervous. But we got into and forgot about the cameras.”
Wild man actor Tom Arnold was among Kimmel’s guests, but the green room scene wasn’t anything to write home about, Tyler said.
“I didn’t party with anybody there,” he said. “A lot of these things are such a routine for all the people involved that it’s just a job for them. It’s kind of like a mundane thing for everybody but us. We were loving it because it was our national TV debut and it was definitely exciting.”
The band felt loved in return.
“Some of the producers came down and said it was one of the better shows they’ve had,” Tyler said. “A lot of times it’s just people blowing smoke up your ass so it doesn’t phase me, but they treated us good and it will always be a fond memory.”
Tyler is touring in support of Pardon Me (shown below), his second album and his first major label release.
The album is getting good reviews and is certainly more polished than the band’s debut indie effort Hot Trottin’, but no less energetic and passionate. The rougher-edged Hot Trottin’ was recorded in five days on a miniscule budget (and who can forget that album cover’s hilarious depiction of a clearly partied out Tyler?).
If you’re interested, here’s my 2008 review of Hot Trottin’.
The new release includes a remake of “Gypsy Woman.”
“When we signed to Atlantic it was one of the songs they wanted to use,” Tyler said. “The first album has some very redeeming qualities to it that I really like, but the second record is definitely more mature sounding and fuller sounding. Sonically it’s a lot better.”
Returning to Fort Worth for a Sunday night show is another thing Tyler is pumped about. The band has played Lola’s Saloon in the Stockyards but hasn’t appeared at the Sixth Street location.
“I like Fort Worth a lot,” he said. “It’s got a lot of music history and heritage there and it reminds me of Texas more than Dallas does. ”
The dude knows how to work a local crowd!
Here’s a clip of Tyler and the Northern Lights playing live at Fort Worth’s 8.0 bar back in 2008:
Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights play at 10 pm Sunday at Lola’s Saloon Sixth, 2736 W Sixth St. Tickets are $10 for over 21, and $15 for under 21.