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Live From New York

Live From The Bell House: Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, Big Sandy And His Fly-Rite Boys, Dennis Coffey & Syl Johnson

By Published: July 15, 2011
Hailing from deep down in Mississippi, Johnson's roots are as a blues sideman, playing for the best. We're talking Jimmy Reed
Jimmy Reed
Jimmy Reed
1925 - 1976
guitar, electric
, Magic Sam
Magic Sam
Magic Sam
1937 - 1969
guitar, electric
, Junior Wells
Junior Wells
Junior Wells
1934 - 1998
harmonica
and Howlin' Wolf
Howlin' Wolf
Howlin' Wolf
1910 - 1976
vocalist
. It was Johnson's 1970s work for Hi Records that went on to form the heart of his reputation as a soul man. This was also the home of Al Green
Al Green
Al Green
b.1946
vocalist
, governed by Willie Mitchell's production prowess.

As usual, the evening's star attraction was backed by The Sweet Divines, a combo that have developed into prime Brooklyn soul interpreters. The singers who give the band its name, and their horn section, supplied an underlining dialogue, whilst Johnson took over the raw, lowdown tones and the occasional understated guitar solo embellishment. Garbed formally in suit and tie (but sporting shades), his personality comes across as a mixture of ornery and jokey, commanding and casual. Johnson's authority allows him to pepper a smooth entertainer persona with social comment and cussing interludes. He's old-fashioned, but also sly and sharp. The brightest-shining moments might have been slightly predictable, but who can resist the classic sting and swell of "Is It Because I'm Black?" and "Take Me To The River"?


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