Ode to Jef Lee Johnson: The Promise of Lovolution

Charles Blass By

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His chordal movements have a sentimental touch to them, yet stay firm and never fall into the syrup bowl. Above all he is a voice on guitar who left a body of cleverly crafted songs that used popular forms to express intimate and urgent messages. —Jean-Paul Bourelly

Jef Lee Johnson aka Rainbow Crow, you've made your wings and you took your flight to the stars. Our sadness is immense. But we know that you do not really left us, and if we know how to listen, you'll receive in each musical note in each silence. We will dedicate the next festival, Jef, from the bottom of our heart. Peace and respect. —L'équipe de Sons d'hiver (Team Winter Sounds)

He was really full of music, that's for sure. Many people just saw him as sort of a Jimi Hendrix-ish kind of player, which was not what I felt... Jef was much more in tune with a sort of Coltrane idea... in fact I could feel more of the Jimi Hendrix thing when he was singing. We were talking about making another album, soon, "Letters from Jef Lee Johnson to Robert Johnson." —Jean Rochard

Jef was the man. A transcendental talent and human being. The world is a better place for his having been here. My world, personally, is a much better place for his having been in it. He was a musical big brother to me. I'm sad he's gone. I'm glad he's at peace though... because if anyone deserved some peace, he did. —Steven Wolf

I still can't believe Jef is gone. Just like that. Gone! MY FRIEND & BROTHER WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE ONE OF THE GREATEST MUSICIANS TO EVER CREATE MUSIC ON THIS PLANET. There's not enough room here to elaborate on all great times and experiences we shared together @ recording sessions, on stage, going camera shopping, just hanging @ his crib or mine... JEF was not only one of the best musicians in the world but he was a total gentlemen. On stage or off, what you got from JEF was real! NO PRESERVATIVES!! —Ted Thomas, Jr.

"Jef Lee Johnson is a gift from God," that's what Ronald Shannon Jackson told me once during an interview. Vernon Reid described him as "Good, hardcore good, and he can sing." Jef's passing is a huge loss for all of us that ever had a chance to witness his gift and experience his charming wit, and an even larger loss for those still to be touched by his legend. Jef and his music was, is and will forever be a bright moment. —J. Michael Harrison

Jef was as unique an artist as he was a human being. He was true to himself and with people. Jef was always inspired.

It's a rarity to see a musician play so many instruments at a high level and create everything from the ground up himself (recording, mixing, mastering, CD cover, video clips, flyers...).

Jef was a Griot, a Poet, a Messenger. All you have to do is listen to his lyrics to understand how deep he was.

How can an artist of this quality and vast musical experience be forgotten in the shadows? I think that's what makes Jef so special. He deserved so much more than he ultimately received.

Honestly, Jef Lee Johnson was the BEST the music has to offer.

His music and immense body of work will continue to spread all over the world. —Stefany Calembert & Reggie Washington

All he wanted was some good energy & folks enjoying his music. ... He got NO love. That's right! He said; "Watch what happens when I'm dead"!! Death shouldn't be a reason to tell of someone's accomplishments & greatness as a musician. We need that to go on in this hard & heartless business ! What about Jef ? We can be philosophical & say he can hear it all now from above. Cold facts; my Brutha got no love... & he wanted that. He deserved that. Better late than never ?? That ain't right !! Don't sweat it Jef. I told you every time we played during our 25+ year friendship. —Reggie Washington

Few journalists wrote about Jef's music and I've tried to spread his music for 6 years. Now that he is gone, you see articles everywhere in the world about him. ... Jef & I were speaking on the phone often and for hours, and he was saying : "Watch when I'll be dead, they'll start speaking about me !." He was right... So sad.

I wish people were smarter, more curious and with more heart. You have to wait for somebody to die to say I loved him, I miss him, he was wonderful! FUCK THAT! Show him or her love when he/she is ALIVE ! SCREAM IT !!! That's what Jef needed... RECOGNITION. He needed that so bad.

It's important that people know that Jef was very sad about this lack of recognition.

Honestly, if he had more attention ... I am sure he would take care better of his health and of himself. That was an every day suffering: "so much work and no recognition."

I think this business & the way people can be killed him morally and it didn't help his health.

What Jef wanted is that his music is heard, the rest he didn't give a damn. Music was the only thing he had after Trish (his wife).

When I asked Jef, what can I do for you? He said I want to play my music. Nothing else. —Stefany Calembert

One of the most gifted and humble musicians I ever met.... I am still trying to wrap my head around this. But after having a little time to reflect, as sad as I am, I honestly think that Jef is happier now. At least I hope he is. As unbelievably gifted as he was, and as humble as he was, and as kind as he was, he was also unbelievably sad. We are all blessed that he has left his legacy behind through his music, ...I will work to make sure that he is not forgotten.

He had canceled the show at the end of December, just after doing a show in New York City, when nobody came out to see his band. He told me he wouldn't be playing his original music live again. —Fern Brodkin

Bet you the real lyrics are; "Don't f*ck with my excellent day!" Holla... —Reggie Washington

But you know Jef never swore. —Rob Reddy

Jef was on a VERY short list of absolute must see players ... such a luminous talent, one who was an under-appreciated legend here on Philadelphia. While people state the importance of straight-ahead (more or less) Philly exponents like Pat Martino, Steve Giordano, Benson, and others, Jef boldly mutated, morphed, and transcended boundaries all over the place, meanwhile getting little to no cred in the "guitar music" community in America. He is much better appreciated abroad, not surprisingly.

Cornell Dupree, Jimi, Miles, Sonny Sharrock, Jef covered the whole earth of guitar style possibilities, and was totally soulful even when skronking out! —Bob Barnett

Jef Lee Johnson was so many things. To those of us in the D'Angelo camp, Jef Lee was an amazingly gifted guitarist who toured the world in 2000 as a member of the Soultronics and just last year brilliantly substituted for Jesse Johnson in our current band, the Vanguard— becoming one of only two musicians to appear in both bands.

A gentle musical giant, it always struck me that Jef Lee was "cursed" with so much imaginative creativity that he couldn't be constrained by the r&b and pop genres. Left to his own devices, Jef Lee's talent soared beyond his guitar strings into uncharted territory. He was sadly under-recognized by the general public but the music world lost a major force and we lost a friend. Jef Lee's survivors and friends are in our prayers. —Alan Leeds

I can give you my impression about George Duke Orchestra in Montreux. It was in 2000. Jane Birkin with Sacem organized a "Tribute to Serge Gainsbourg." Eleven French singers came for this. We were doing a small movie about Salif Keita. The Malian singer came for the rehearsal in the hotel where Duke and friends were staying. We stayed two hours in a small room, with the whole orchestra. It was wonderful. I spoke a long time with George Duke. I remember Jef Lee Johnson, sitting close to George, with his orange Strat. I asked him what kind of effects he used with his guitar. He answered me as if I knew him for a long time. GD made special arrangements of Gainsbourg songs. So, when they started playing with Salif Keita, "Je suis venu te dire que je m'en vais," it was a new song, really. Salif's voice from Africa with West Coast arrangements. Simply magic... Jef Lee was playing a rhythmic part, very softly, very jazzy. I remember Jef as a quiet, serious and very kind man. —Frédéric Jouve

The first time I heard him, he was playing electric bass with Bootsie Barnes. This was back in the mid-80s. I first played with him on a jazz gig in West Oak Lane. John Scofield was the 'hot' guitarist on the major scene at the time, which was the late 80s. I remember thinking, this cat Jef is just as badd, maybe badder. Fast forward. Jef played a gig with me on my wedding night over seven years ago at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus. I don't think he looked at my music before. He played a solo on a tune of mine, where he just totally nailed the vibe of it. I never heard anyone play my music that way. A couple of years after that gig, Jef and I were hired to play with a 4-piece black male vocal group out of Vegas called Spectrum. They did Motown and Philly stuff. Jef really handled that gig well. He even had the 'sitar' guitar that was used on some Philly hit songs. We played at the Kimmel Center with the Philly Pops Orchestra. We talked quite a bit during that run. He was very open about everything he'd been through. He was complimentary about my playing, and expressed a desire to 'do something' in the future. I told him that he should have played with Miles Davis. I told that to another monster black guitarist, Ron Jennings. Jef was ahead of his time. I think some folks were hating on his enormous talent and musicianship. He did some great stuff, but should have done much, much more. He should have been a household name, as far as guitarists go. Now, after his death, he just might become that. —Mike Boone

His musical depth challenged and influenced me, and I'm sure many other musicians right away and still does. His genuine and honest disposition and willingness to share with less capable musicians was an extension of that honesty. And as a friend he was again genuine and honest and kind. ...Jef would have laughed at all of this especially heartfelt quotes. —Michael Elia

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