Say this for Jon Klenck, the guitar ace who performs under the nom de plume Jonny Monster: When he’s focused on music, the rest of the world fades away.
Take last year, for instance. A friend hooked him up with a booking agent, who landed him a 30-day run of shows in Belgium and the Netherlands. The first time Klenck ever got on a plane, it was to ride 14 hours across the Atlantic, and once he got there, he and his band had only three days off.
He didn’t watch the news. He didn’t scroll social media. He didn’t even talk much to folks back home in Knoxville. He just played, which is why, he told The Daily Times recently, that he was a little confused when he started hearing about the coronavirus shortly after his return.
“That was probably the hardest thing about COVID — over there, we were pretty much treated like royalty, and you just show up and load your stuff in, and everybody’s there to make sure you’re OK, because you’re the entertainment,” he said. “They put us up in a house, they gave us a driver who took us to every gig, and they fed us full, huge meals. We even had a small group of people that followed us around Belgium, and wherever we played, they would show up.
“Then I got home and heard about this coronavirus, and I really thought that Corona beer was making people sick! Nobody over there was talking about it, and nobody here was keeping me informed, and we were just playing, man.”
Six days later, however, the world shut down — literally. Now, the guy who will bring the Jonny Monster Band to Brackins Blues Club in downtown Maryville on Saturday night is just grateful to be back at it, even if it is for American audiences rather than European ones. Say this for the Brackins crowd, though: The Jonny Monster Band may be the soundtrack to drinking and hookups at a lot of bars, but Brackins isn’t one of them.
“It’s always a great time, and Brackins is one of my favorite places to play around here,” said Klenck, who rounds out his band with drummer Kevin Redding and bassist Brian Jolley. “The crowds have been getting bigger, and we get a lot of ‘repeat offenders,’ as I like to call them, who come out every time we play.”
Klenck has been making Brackins a regular stop on his rounds of regional venues since he landed in East Tennessee in fall 2013. He started playing guitar when he was 12, inspired by his father and a smorgasbord of sonic influences, from the bombast of Black Sabbath to the skittering reggae-tinged vibes of The Police. He was a natural, so much so that in the Hudson Valley area of New York, a group of players with whom he sat in one time called him a “monster” on the guitar, and the nickname has been a part of his professional moniker ever since.
“I came through here on tour a few times and fell in love with Tennessee right off the bat, so it was kind of a no-brainer when I decided to leave New York,” he said.
It didn’t take long for local players to notice his talents. He got his start as a member of the Juke Joint Drifters before splitting time between that band and his own project, eventually transitioning to the Jonny Monster Band full time. In 2019, the Jonny Monster Band was chosen to represent the Smoky Mountain Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, and while the blues will always be the bedrock of Klenck’s sound, the broad array of players at that particular event was illuminating, he said.
“The first two nights were the most interesting, because you got to see everybody’s take on blues music, and it was all different, even though a lot of the material was the same,” he said. “Everybody puts their own take on it, and I’ve always just tried to play the blues as if Black Sabbath was doing it.”
During his COVID downtime, Klenck did a few Facebook Live performances and went into the studio in hopes of putting out a new album sooner rather than later to showcase the evolution of the Jonny Monster Band.
“It’s kind of a compilation of songs I’ve written over the years — a few acoustic ones on there I don’t play out often, and some of the newer stuff I’ve been writing,” he said. “I think people will be surprised by the diversity and the growth, because the direction we’re going in is a little bit more alternative bluesy kind of stuff than straight blues.”