Lonnie Johnson: The Unsung Blues Legend
Blues Magnet Records has slipped into distribution, quietly and without due clamor, one of the more significant blues documents of the year. The Unsung Blues Legend presents seminal blues and jazz guitarist Lonnie Johnson performing alone in 1965 at the home of his friend and painter, Bernie Strassberg. Due to the fact that Johnson died from complications sustained in an automobile accident in Toronto five years later, The Unsung Blues Legend represents a summary of a long life in music, influencing numerous musicians along the way, including Eddie Lang, B.B. King, T Bone Walker, Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan.
Born in New Orleans in 1899, Johnson was a contemporary of Louis Armstrong's and in fact recorded with the Hot Five in 1927, as well as with Duke Ellington in 1928. His New Orleans background sings through on his guitar, which produced vocal-like lines picked up by blues guitarists for generations after Johnson originated the sound.
By touring England in 1917, Johnson escaped an influenza outbreak in New Orleans which wiped out his family. Thereafter, he moved to St. Louis and signed with OKeh Records, producing a prolific string of recordings that remain highly original and evocative. Johnson's high-profile musical career lasted through the forties, when he recorded a hit on King Records, "Tomorrow Night." After that, Johnson's musical activity declined in the 1950's, reducing him to jobs as cook and janitor. When Chris Albertson staged Johnson's comeback and re-appreciation, he went on to record for Prestige and gain greater recognition once again. It is during that comeback period that Johnson privately recorded this CD, which is available to the public for the first time.
In a year of Louis Armstrong's centennial celebration, it's fitting that the greatly innovative Johnson be celebrated too. And Blues Magnet Records has done just that.
Performing a selection of tunes in an informal manner, Johnson calls upon his four decades of musical experiences and his life's ups and downs. Typically, as befits a blues singer, Johnson sings a phrase of regret and wisdom before responding to the thoughts with a guitar riff. This call-and-response technique follows him through the CD, as does his emphasis upon story-telling when he sings. In his sixties, Johnson's voice remained undiminished and in fact pierces through to the listener for emotional effect, as well as for lyrical content. Johnson is especially effective on the slower, more descriptive tunes like "Summertime" or "September Song," which allows him to slow down the tune, stretching the rhythm, so that the meaning of the words can sink in.
For enthusiasts and students of the blues, The Unsung Blues Legend represents a classroom of information about the origination of one of America's indigenous musical forms.
Track Listing: This Love Of Mine, September Song, Don't Cry Baby, Solitude, I'm Confessin', I Can't Give You Anything But Love, St. Louis Blues, New Orleans Blues, Careless Love, Danny Boy, Back Water Blues, My Mother's Eyes, Prisoner Of Love, There's Been Some Changes Made, Jelly Jelly, Summertime, Rockin' Chair
Personnel: Lonnie Johnson, vocal, guitar
Record Label: Blues Magnet Records