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Lonnie Johnson

Blues guitar simply would not have developed in the manner that it did if not for the prolific brilliance of Lonnie Johnson. He was there to help define the instrument's future within the genre and the genre's future itself at the very beginning, his melodic conception so far advanced from most of his prewar peers as to inhabit a plane all his own. For more than 40 years, Johnson played blues, jazz, and ballads his way; he was a true blues originator whose influence hung heavy on a host of subsequent blues immortals.

Johnson's extreme versatility doubtless stemmed in great part from growing up in the musically diverse Crescent City. Violin caught his ear initially, but he eventually made the guitar his passion, developing a style so fluid and inexorably melodic that instrumental backing seemed superfluous. He signed up with OKeh Records in 1925 and commenced to recording at an astonishing pace -- between 1925 and 1932, he cut an estimated 130 waxings. The red-hot duets he recorded with white jazz guitarist Eddie Lang (masquerading as Blind Willie Dunn) in 1928-1929 were utterly groundbreaking in their ceaseless invention. Johnson also recorded pioneering jazz efforts in 1927 with no less than Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Duke Ellington's orchestra.

After enduring the Depression and moving to Chicago, Johnson came back to recording life with Bluebird for a five-year stint beginning in 1939. Under the ubiquitous Lester Melrose's supervision, Johnson picked up right where he left off, selling quite a few copies of "He's a Jelly Roll Baker" for old Nipper. Johnson went with Cincinnati-based King Records in 1947 and promptly enjoyed one of the biggest hits of his uncommonly long career with the mellow ballad "Tomorrow Night," which topped the R&B charts for seven weeks in 1948. More hits followed posthaste: "Pleasing You (As Long as I Live)," "So Tired," and "Confused."

Time seemed to have passed Johnson by during the late '50s. He was toiling as a hotel janitor in Philadelphia when banjo player Elmer Snowden alerted Chris Albertson to his whereabouts. That rekindled a major comeback, Johnson cutting a series of albums for Prestige's Bluesville subsidiary during the early '60s and venturing to Europe under the auspices of Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau's American Folk Blues Festival banner in 1963. Finally, in 1969, Johnson was hit by a car in Toronto and died a year later from the effects of the accident.

Johnson's influence was massive, touching everyone from Robert Johnson, whose seminal approach bore strong resemblance to that of his older namesake, to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, who each paid heartfelt tribute with versions of "Tomorrow Night" while at Sun. ~ Bill Dahl
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: The Very Best Of Lonnie Johnson

1. I Am So Glad

2. What A Woman

3. Tomorrow Night

4. Friendless Blues

5. I Want My Baby

6. What A Real Woman

7. Fallin' Rain Blues

8. Feeling Low Down

9. Drunk Again

10. Jelly Roll Baker

11. Working Man's Blues

12. Chicago Blues

13. Feel So Lonesome

14. Tell Me Little Woman

15. Backwater Blues

16. Careless Love

17. She's So Sweet

18. Trouble Ain't Nothin' But The Blues

19. Little Rockin' Chair

20. Nothin' Clickin' Chicken

21. Nothing But Trouble

22. Me And My Crazy Self

23. Seven Long Days

24. Just Another Day

25. You Can't Buy Love

x

Track List: The Complete Folkways Recordings

1. Raise The Window High

2. Tears Don't Fall No More

3. Long Road To Travel

4. Old Rocking Chair

5. You Have My Life In Your Hands

6. Lazy Mood

7. Mister Trouble

8. How Deep Is The Ocean

9. Pouring Down Rain

10. Prisoner Of Love

11. Careless Love

12. Juice Headed Baby

13. Teardrops In My Eyes

14. Looking For A Sweetie

15. I've Been A Fool Myself

16. What A Difference A Day Makes

17. That Lonesome Road

18. I Can't Believe

19. When You Always By Yourself

20. My Mother's Eyes

21. Summertime

22. C.C. Rider

23. The Entire Family Was Musicians

24. Falling Rain Blues

Comments

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Lonnie was the real Cat who started it all, playing the chords & then picking the licks! They all stole from him!!!!!!!!! !
Report as inappropriate
Lonnie singing Tomorrow Night is perfect. Elvis liked this, too.
Report as inappropriate
Lonnie's playing with Louis Armstrong is really interesting if one gives it the chance of a serious listen.

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