AJ Ghent is carrying the instrument, and the soul, of those who came before him –but in a most modern way. It’s true that the lap steel guitar has been the electrified ghost of Mississippi’s Delta Blues, and the inspiration for the fiery ‘sacred steel’ tradition of Florida’s Pentecostal worship services, for over a century, but when that lap steel is turned on its side and strapped on like a futuristic-looking guitar-shaped rocket ship, the instrument takes on a whole new dimension.
AJ’s debut release, Live At Terminal West (Blue Corn Music), is a CD/DVD package that showcases a sound, and a show, that is entirely his own. This double-treat package is a testament to both his mind-boggling guitar skills and infectious enthusiasm as a performer. AJ’s contagious passion for the music he loves has fans jumping to their feet, unsure if they are at a revival tent or a rock show – but loving every minute of it.
AJ Ghent was born in Fort Pierce, Florida to a family rich in musical history.
“Everything in our house was music,” Ghent recalls of his upbringing. His great uncle, Willie Eason, was among those popularizing gospel lap steel during the early 1900s, and his father, Aubrey Ghent, currently tours worldwide playing steel guitar for the Slide Brothers.
While still young, AJ discovered the lap steel guitar himself. “Witnessing my father and grandfather play in church and perform gospel music inspired me, and the freedom of the instrument put me somewhere I had never been.”
Ready to take on the world as a professional musician, AJ left his hometown and dove headfirst into the music scene of West Palm Beach, FL where he honed his performance skills nightly in a cover band. “I hit the stage immediately after graduation,” AJ recalls.
AJ spent his nights in West Palm Beach exploring a colorful range of genres from hip hop to R&B, but he still sought a style of his own. His time with the group solidified his love for entertaining, but the drive for further musical definition led him to Atlanta, GA.
Quickly carving his niche in the Atlanta scene, AJ started gigging at local jam sessions and was quickly noticed by Atlanta legend Col. Bruce Hampton, the eclectic singer/guitarist who has mentored many musicians including Derek Trucks and Widespread Panic. AJ joined the group, began honing his signature steel guitar sound and learned the value of breaking convention. “One of the things Col. Bruce appreciated was the fact that I was very spontaneous. He pushed that out of me and showed me that it’s okay to just get on stage without everything planned out. That’s what the AJ Ghent Band lives by now.”
AJ soon decided he wanted to pursue a new sound that blended his love for soul, old-school R&B, and rock, along with the accessibility of a cover band and the experimental flair of Col. Bruce Hampton. But he couldn’t start his solo project without adding a twist to the instrumentation. AJ took it upon himself to overhaul the lap steel aesthetic. “I started out on a standard six-string lap steel guitar, then I moved to a steel guitar. After that I found myself wanting to still try something different, so I started standing up playing lap steel and then found myself admiring the look of traditional guitar players. I wanted people to relate to that. That’s how I came up with the design of an eight-string lap steel and Telecaster guitar hybrid.”
With the help of his wife MarLa and sister Tiffany, on backing vocals, AJ put the band together from a roster of Atlanta’s finest: Seth Watters on bass, Gary Paulo on saxophone/guitar and Will Groth on drums. The newly formed AJ Ghent Band began gigging around Atlanta with a fresh energy and desire to spread the love of music.
Almost immediately the group attracted fans, and one of those fans happened to be country icon Zac Brown. He was so impressed with AJ and his band that he invited them to tour as support with the Zac Brown Band on their 2013 national tour. Overnight the AJ Ghent band went from being Atlanta’s best kept secret to an act opening for one of country music’s biggest stars. Luckily the AJ Ghent Band’s sound transcends genre so, as AJ says, “Going out in front of those country crowds was an entirely new experience, but by the end of the sets people were screaming for us.”
AJ has already caught the attention of A-list musicians currently on the scene. He has performed alongside Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers, opened for Robert Cray and laid down tracks for Zac Brown’s 2013 Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 as one of three guest artists alongside Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and bassist Oteil Burbridge (Tedeschi Trucks Band, Allman Brothers Band).
Live at Terminal West features the AJ Ghent Band at full capacity on all-new, original material. It is equal parts jam session, charismatic showmanship and – most importantly – a group of talented individuals achieving a sound far greater than the sum of its parts. AJ and his high-energy band, complete with soulful relations on backing vocals, blends the electrifying spirit of funk, gospel and blues into a sound that is purely modern rock and roll.