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Margaret Johnson

Although lumped together with many female classic blues singers from the '20s, Margaret Johnson's career was a bit more diverse, including her recording output. She was one of the few female vocalists of her era that made records with a strong country blues influence, particularly the collaborations involving the harmonica-and-guitar team of Bobby Leecan and Robert Cooksey. Of course, she also took part in sessions typical of this era, which combined blues singing with extremely strong New Orleans jazz combos, cutting tracks with masterful players such as Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, and Clarence Williams. Both she and pianist/composer Williams secretly took part in sessions by banjoist Buddy Christian's band the Jazz Rippers, Williams taking no credit at all, and Johnson hiding out under the pseudonym of Margaret Carter.

Many of the blues numbers originating from this period indulged in cleverness for its own sake, sometimes with more than a dash of smut; but there is no denying the potential philosophical impact of Johnson's better recordings, titles often overlooked as consumers flock to the tried-and-true "Dead Drunk Blues." Some of her other recordings include "Who'll Chop Your Suey (When I'm Gone)" (from the same genre of song that contains the classic country number "Who'll Take the Garbage Out When I'm Gone?"), "Folks in New York City Ain't Like Folks Down South" (a cousin to the Buck Owens number "I Wouldn't Live in New York City If They Gave Me the Whole Damn Town"), and "When a 'Gator Holler, Folks Say It's a Sign of Rain" (a song unique enough to inhabit a class of its own).

The Document label holds a pretty full deck when it comes to her '20s recordings, offering a set of her complete works as well as a separate collection of the material with Leecan and Cooksey, released under their name. As is true of much of the classic blues material from the '20s and '30s, Johnson's recordings have also been folded into more than a dozen compilations originating in almost as many different countries. Another difference between Johnson and the colleagues featured on these recordings was that she didn't drop off the music scene once the public taste for classic blues momentarily dwindled. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
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