Jef's inner light came on once he met the love of his life, his lovely wife Trish. They shared something rare that only a few of us ever really get to experience... Being in love with someone who truly "gets us." They "got" each other and it was evident whenever I would see them together. Trish was a musician as well; an accomplished sax, flute and accordion player. From the first time I met her I could see that they were a pair of matching bookends. In 2001 Trish was abruptly taken away from Jef and everyone who loved her one morning in a head-on collision with another vehicle while on her way to visit her mother. It's my understanding that Jef was still sleeping when she left the house that day. I heard that she didn't want to disturb his sleep, so she just left a note and quietly slipped out of the house and into her car. He didn't get to say goodbye. Jef was devastated by her loss. I know that his heart died that day.
After Trish's death, Jef went underground. I and many other friends tried to call and rally around him but he would not answer. Remember, Jef was a loner. He had to deal with this tragedy in his own way. So I and others stopped calling and just let him be. Jef Lee did eventually emerge from his grief and he did begin to play and perform again.
A trendy and sometimes flamboyant dresser (wish I could have worn half the cool stuff he would come up with!). He was a loner; a dry wit; a warm and wonderful heart and soul. A hell of an innovative guitarist while at the same time staying extremely musical and therefore reachable. A quick smile while peeking out from under his round pink tinted sunglasses and then back to the groove. And if you could get him to really laugh out loud, there was nothing like it... Jef could sometimes laugh until he cried! I'll miss you my friend... Those of us you leave behind are far better for having known you. Larry Martin Kimpel
I first met Jef in the summer of 1989 on a tour working for singer/songwriter Miles Jaye. It was a small tour and we traveled in a converted van that was to take us around the east coast and the middle states.
At first I wasn't sure what to make of this very uniquely different individual, but as soon as he picked up the guitar, I knew to pay attention. Jef was an amazing musician and quite a character.
Soon after that tour, I would play with Jef quite often with Jerry and Katreece Barnes throughout New York City. Jef was a very special friend with a very distinct sense of humor that I adored.
We always had a great time on and off the bandstand. In 1993 I was signed to Polygram Publishing and called Jef anytime I could get him to play on my song demos. What a joy to have access to a musician such as Jef that could make your music sound better than you heard it in your own head; I didn't want to write a song without him on it.
In that same period of my publishing deal, I was blessed to produce a record on Chaka Khan for Warner Bros. Records. Jef was so instrumental in making the song happen, even Chaka Khan wanted to know who he was when she heard the track. To this day his performance is unforgettable!
It was not released: "Queen of Hearts." Warner blocked all production of Chaka that year. They released a greatest hits record and then they dropped her from the label. The song also features Michael Bearden on piano and synth strings, Steve Kroon on percussion. The rest is my programming.
I watched as Jef's career was rapidly building. He was in demand by amazing artists including George Duke, Rachelle Ferrell and so many others. The blessings and gifts that were bestowed upon this wonderfully soft-spoken and caring spirit was clearly a once in a lifetime phenomenon. I had never before met anyone like Jef Lee Johnson and I am sure that I never will again in this lifetime.
Through the trials and tribulations of his life, he maintained such a wonderful and loving aura, one would have never known the pain and losses he had suffered.
Music, friends, family and the world has lost an angel. I am sure he was called home to do bigger and better things. Ivan Hampden Jr.
It was shocking and painful to lose Jef Lee. His song, such a screaming of joy within the modest and unsuspecting frame. Pheeroan AkLaff
I met Jef musically and personally in 1994 on tour in Europe and recording "What Spirit Say" with Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society. In this musical endeavor I've been fortunate to find a sonical kindred spirit and great brother with whom I'd swap Jimi Hendrix dreams when they would come to pass. This earthly realm was blessed during the 54 years he existed here and the universe is rejoicing in the newest addition to the galactic ensemble! Peace be upon my brother Jef Lee Johnson. James Carter