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Richard Leo Johnson

The Legend of Vernon McAlister, Richard Leo Johnson's newest recording on Cuneiform, is an astonishing and magical release �" a sort of acoustic guitar equivalent to the classic Lewis Carroll novel, Alice in Wonderland. Early in the 21st C., Johnson's neighbor in Savannah, GA introduced him to a mildewed National Duolian steel-bodied guitar, dating from the early 1930s. Also called a resonator guitar because its uniquely shaped, steel body self-amplified or resonated sound, the Duolian was a mass-produced, inexpensive, and road-worthy instrument popular among blues, jazz, Hawaiian musicians who worked roadside taverns in the Depression years. Previously, Johnson had used a variety of finely-made, modern guitars �" most notably an 18-string, custom made, double-necked McCullum �" to express his fleet-fingered, idiosyncratic and highly innovative style. But as soon as he heard the Duolian, and discovered the name "Vernon McAlister" crudely scratched into its side, Johnson tumbled deep inside the resonator's web, just as Alice had fallen down the rabbit hole. The Legend of Vernon McAlister was born, resulting in an all-instrumental CD that can serve as soundtrack or ‘aural' history to a written tale (readable on vernonmcalister.com). It is perhaps the best and most certainly the most imaginative project that this highly imaginative guitarist has ever done.

Richard Leo Johnson is one of the most innovative and inspired acoustic guitarists on the current American music scene. Amazon.com's editors called Johnson "perhaps the next in a short line of guitar greats--a line that includes [Michael] Hedges, Derek Bailey, Pat Metheny, Sonny Sharrock, and a few others," while Playboy touted him as "the most innovative guitarist since Jim Hendrix."

A passionate and intuitive player, he is often compared to such masters of the steel-string acoustic guitar as Bruce Cockburn, John Fahey, Michael Hedges, Burt Jansch, Adrian Legg, Leo Kottke, Steve Tibbetts, and Ralph Towner. But Johnson's style, characterized by complexity, exhilarating speed, and hauntingly unfamiliar harmonies created through ‘found' tunings, marks this self-taught player apart from any other musician.

Johnson was raised in America's deep South, in a small Arkansas town in the Mississippi Delta. He began playing guitar at age 9, briefly taking lessons from a hard-drinking oil field worker before deciding he'd learn more on his own. Johnson recalls that his "real jumping off point" was a cassette he received as a teenager, which featured John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra's Inner Mounting Flame on one side, and Leo Kottke's Greenhouse on the other: Says Johnson: "I thought it was one person playing this stuff! The initial impact was that it was somehow possible to make something happen that fused the linear liquidity of McLaughlin and the dense harmonic structure and drive of Kottke." The distinctive playing of Oregon's guitarist, Ralph Towner also impressed Johnson. Practicing incessantly on his own, he developed an idiosyncratic playing style which combined plucking and strumming, alternating between 6, 12, and 18 strings, using all parts of the guitar, and employing 30 tunings he devised. Music remained a private passion while Johnson pursued architectural photography as a profession, receiving an MFA from Louisiana Tech, running his own studio, and creating photos sought by collectors such as D.C.'s Corcoran Museum and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

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"(Johnson) developed a whole lexicon of expression on the instrument that defies conventional wisdom... It's the calling card of an intuitive genius." --Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times

"...the most innovative guitarist since Jimi Hendrix. Johnson is a one man guitar orchestra." --Vic Garbarini, Playboy

Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Who Knew Charlie Shoe?

Cuneiform Records
2008

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Who Knew Charlie Shoe?

Cuneiform Records
2007

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The Legend of Vernon...

Cuneiform Records
2006

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Poetry of Appliance

Cuneiform Records
2004

buy

Fingertip Ship

Metro Blue
2003

buy

Language

Blue Note Records
2003

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