lues prodigy Jonny Lang celebrated his 23rd birthday last week. Already a veteran of the road, Lang has mesmerized the blues world with his guitar strumming since he burst onto the scene as a precocious 16-year-old.

According to his own estimate, he averages roughly 200 shows per year.

Lang hopes to be performing for many more years, but even he had to hesitate when the conversation turned to his idol B.B. King, who is still going strong at age 78.

Looking 55 years into the future was almost too much for Lang to handle.

“That’s amazing – his stamina and ability to go out and play,” Lang said during a telephone interview last week on his birthday during a tour stop in St. Louis.

“I know he used to play something like 300 shows a year. For anybody to do that is insane.”

The young star has already shared the stage with the likes of King, Buddy Guy, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Sting. Lang is currently crisscrossing the country on an eight-week headlining tour, that includes a return to Maine next week at the State Theatre in Portland.

Opening for Lang is Cross Canadian Ragweed.

Lang is touring in support of his first studio album in more than five years. The album, appropriately named “Long Time Coming,” was released in October.

“It was delay, after delay,” Lang recalled. “My record company (A&M) was bought by Universal Records. Because it is a conglomerate of record companies, we had to find our place in the new company.”

Lang described the songs on the album as a journal about his life over the past couple of years.

Born and raised in the blues backwater of Fargo, N. D., Lang discovered the genre at age 12 when his father took him to see a show that featured the only blues band in the area.

“I had never seen a concert before,” said Lang. “I was inspired by the guitar player.”

He began taking lessons from that guitarist. A quick learner, Lang was fronting the band in a matter of months, playing professionally at age 13. His raspy voice made him seem far older.

Lang eventually moved to Minneapolis and his playing caught the attention of executives at A&M Records. His major label debut “Lie To Me” sent shock waves throughout the blues world.

While his playing and voice defied his age, he was criticized in some quarters as being too young to understand the blues. He acknowledges that some people even looked at him as a novelty act.

But displaying a maturity that equaled his considerable skills, Lang says issues about his age “never really bothered me.”

Fellow blues artists, however, considered him an equal. He was 16 when he first shared a stage with B.B. King.

“What was most incredible was how gracious he was,” said Lang. “He could have treated me like a little kid and didn’t. He must have known what an impression that would have left on me.”

His second album, “Wander This World,” was released in 1998. His first two albums have both been certified platinum with more than 1 million copies sold – a rare feat for a blues record.

Finding his birthday a time to reflect, Lang laughed while thinking about how his life changed since that initial blues show. Before that night, he was like any other music-loving youngster.

“I was into Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Jane’s Addiction,” said Lang. “I loved those bands. But it was just something about blues.”


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