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
| Style: Blues
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.