Ode to Jef Lee Johnson: The Promise of Lovolution

Charles Blass By

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Mark Knox (keyboardist/composer/recording engineer who now lives in Toronto) & I (along w/ other musicians who eventually parted ways and moved back) had relocated from Indianapolis IN to Philly. I guess around 1978, in the search for a "perfect" bassist who could both swing and also play "progressive" straight-8th stuff, we were introduced to Jef by Lee Mergner (now publisher of JazzTimes but was booking/promoting us back then). After we played our first tune (probably an original by Mark Knox) together at a rehearsal, I'll never forget Jef looking at me and saying "You must have had a very disturbed childhood." This is the kind of humor Jef possessed, which was off-putting to many, but to me I realized right then and there I had met a kindred spirit. He was a great bassist (to which Jamaaladeen Tacuma also can attest), but kept insisting "we should hear him play guitar." Needless to say when we did, I was absolutely floored. We played together a lot in various situations in addition to him playing bass in his unique way (he seemed to inhabit the spaces other bassists would leave out, while still somehow completely fulfilling the requisite bottom function of the bass) with our band. In turn, Jef introduced us to Gerald Veasley for the bass but often— if the particular gig paid enough—he'd still always be added on guitar.

Unbelievably prolific, Jef would deliver everything completed and mostly play everything himself, which honestly was kind of both intimidating and inspiring to me as a drummer. Occasionally on his projects for Dreambox Media, he'd usually have a guest artist or two on certain tracks (his late wife Trish appears a lot) and live he preferred a basic trio setting. He had his own elaborate home studio and definitely knew his way around that process of recording, mixing and mastering as well as he did his instrument(s).

About "Monkey Zero," that was an earlier attempt to distance himself (for whatever reason) from "Jef Lee Johnson." The advisory warning re: "EXPLICIT CONTENT" (for an all-instrumental CD) is one of many brilliant things Jef came up with that I wish I would've thought of first. Anyway, he later parlayed that misterioso avoidance of using his actual name into the persona "Rainbow Crow," and on the most recent "Black & Loud" chose to even reduce that moniker to "a/k/a R.C." and insisted his real name appear nowhere on the product. Combined with a nearly indecipherable cover, probably NOT the way to promote yourself or move CDs...but that was Jef!!!

Jef was truly one-of-another-kind. In a perfect world, he would have been as widely known as Hendrix, Prince and Stevie Wonder. All he wanted to do was make music and it quite literally poured out of him, but he didn't care so much about the 'biz' side (as is often the case with serious artists). Plus he had the "total recall" superpower... seemed everything he'd ever heard was saved in memory somehow... and not limited to music. He could quote whole episodes of dialog (while doing the characters' voices!) from films and TV, and every time I talked to him—no matter how long it'd been between conversations— it was like we were just taking up where we left off from the last time. Jef was a very genuine, creative, funny and intelligent spirit. I'll miss his laugh most of all. —Jim Miller, Dreamboxmedia.com

Jef Lee Johnson was not only an amazingly innovative guitarist, but a songwriter of the highest order. After meeting him and having the experience of his playing/recording on my most recent CD, my producer Glenn Barratt informed me that Jef Lee had his own recordings. He has quite the discography. I embarked on buying as many as I could. I was blown away at his songwriting. His songs are incredible. As well, Jef Lee with few exceptions played ALL OF THE INSTRUMENTS. And he played them brilliantly. His production sense was genius. I was lucky to get to know Jef some as we performed live on a few occasions as well as having recorded together. Jef Lee was all about the music. There was an instance where I did not have a lot of money to pay him for a television performance. His response to me was "keep your money." This is something I'll never forget. Most musicians (and not of Jef Lee's calibre) are never benevolent in this regard.



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