When the Dixie Chicks performed at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel in the summer of 2016, it was a homecoming for their keyboardist, John Ginty, who grew up in Morristown and now lives in Bernardsville. And when they introduced him, and identified him as a Jersey guy, the crowd went wild.
“That’s something they still talk about,” says Ginty, who will co-headline the Jay’s Jersey’s Jams, Vol. 3″ benefit for NJArts.net that will take place at the Stanhope House, March 18 at 6:30 p.m. ” ‘Well, how about the time we introduced Ginty in Jersey?’ That’s still the longest ovation that anybody (in the band) has gotten, ever.”
The Dixie Chicks “love that I’m from Jersey, too,” he added. “They make a big deal out of that. They like having a Jersey guy in the Dixie Chicks. And I play into it a little bit. I lay it on a little thick when I’m asking for a cup of cawfee.”
Ginty has his own John Ginty Band, but at the Stanhope House, he’ll appear under the name “John Ginty and Friends,” leading a group that will include his regular drummer-vocalist (Maurice Watson) and guitarist (Mike Buckman) plus Marcus Randolph (of Robert Randolph’s Family Band), Jimmy Bennett (of the Alexis P. Suter Band and The Bennett Brothers) and others. The Shockenaw Mountain Boys (featuring members of Railroad Earth) will co-headline, and The Porchistas and The Outcrops will also perform.
Ginty says he goes back a long way with Andy Goessling and Tim Carbone of The Shockenaw Mountain Boys. “I’m sure I’ll play with those guys, and those guys will play with me,” he says. “It will be a big ol’ old-school jam.”
For more than 20 years, Ginty has been a busy session musician as well as recording and touring under his own name. He worked on a series of well-received albums by singer-songwriter Neal Casal in the ’90s, and his big break came when he got a chance to play in Jewel’s band, in 1997.
“I was living in Morristown in a tiny little apartment,” said Ginty. “I got a phone call from a producer who I had been working with and he said, ‘I need you to play with Jewel on “Saturday Night Live” and “MTV Unplugged.” ‘ He called me on a Tuesday, and ‘Saturday Night Live’ was that Saturday. So I ran to Scotti’s Records in Morristown, and I bought her record, which had just come out, and I took it home and learned the whole thing.”
He stayed with Jewel for a few years and, in 2000, became an original member of a band that often played at the Stanhope House early in its career: Robert Randolph & the Family Band.
Pedal steel guitar master Randolph “was just playing in churches” before starting the band, Ginty said.“He hadn’t played any gigs at all. He hadn’t played in any bars, or anything like that. And Gary Waldman, a manager who lived in Morristown, kept calling me and he said, ‘I’ve got this pedal steel player. We’ve got to do something with this guy. He’s incredible.’ He played me something over the phone, and it sounded like Duane Allman, and I went, ‘My god. Well, let’s go do that now.’
“We took Robert to his first gigs ever, which were at the Lakeside Lounge on Avenue B (in New York) on a Monday night. I think we played to 15 or 16 people. And a couple of weeks later we were opening for Medeski, Martin & Wood at the Bowery (Ballroom), and then we were doing those Stanhope House shows. It just took off like a rocket.
“That first year, that band was on fire. I know he’s had a lot of incarnations since then, and guys have come and gone, and the size of the band has changed and all that, and people have different opinions as to which version they like best. But you can just listen to Live at Wetlands(recorded in 2001) and just hit play… The proof’s on the tape. That band was smoking hot.
“I was in the music business already, and to watch this cat go from … the first shows we played, he showed up in a suit, and he never got out of his chair. And to see what he puts on now … it’s pretty incredible to see him come out of his shell like that, and just open it up, and connect with audiences. He’s an incredibly talented guy.”
Ginty stayed with the group until 2003; since then, he has worked with everyone from Santana, Bad Religion and Citizen Cope to the rapper Redman, with whom he recorded a single, “Fredo,” in 2015. Through his connection with Redman and engineer Josh Gannet, he also played on the 2017 Wu-Tang Clan album, The Saga Continues.
The credit “looks great on a resume, man, ’cause it’s right next to the Dixie Chicks,” Ginty said.
Speaking of which, he says he’s looking forward to the next tour with them, whenever it is.
“It’s a dream-come-true gig,” he said. “There’s not a better job to be had out there. They’re amazingly talented, they’re super-fun to work with, they hardly have ever told me what to do. They just kind of want me to be me, almost to a shocking degree.”
He says he does have his next John Ginty Band album recorded, but may release it only in digital form.
“That makes the most sense, but it feels kind of weird,” he said. “It feels strange to release something that I can’t hold and, like, take a picture of. But I think that’s probably the way it’s going to go.”
For more about the Stanhope House show, visit its Facebook event page.
For more about Ginty, visitjohngintymusic.com.
Here are some videos of Ginty’s music: