Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Underrated Jimmy Johnson album

Jimmy Johnson, since turning from soul into the blues, developed into one of the blues most distinctive singers and guitarists. Born Jimmy Thompson, he adopted the name Johnson like his more famous brother Syl, while brother Mac was a well respected bass-player (best known for his work with Magic Sam. Initially showing up as a second guitarist behind Jimmy Dawkins and Otis Rush, his recordings as part of the fist batch of Alligator's Living Chicago Blues brought his music front and center to the attention of blues lovers. While he recorded for the MCM label as part of series of recordings made in Chicago clubs (although during day so the ambiance was more like a studio recording than a live date), his recordings for Delmark certainly shown what a distinctive singer and tunesmith (able to turn a clever phrase) he was. Add to this his distinctive (almost ethereal) high tenor and his rapier-like guitar work, Johnson brings his own voice to his originals as well as his interpretations of classic blues.

One recording by him is Livin' the Blues on the French Black & Blue label which is available for download from emusic and Amazon lists the CD. Not sure who the personnel is on this, but they are a pretty solid group. Much of the material are covers but Johnson makes such overdone songs as Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have To Go, his own as one hears a tinge of the classic Bill Doggett instrumental, Honky Tonk. Similarly he adds a West Side Chicago flavor to Elmore James' The Sky Is Crying, laying out a really strong solo that matches his heartfelt vocal. Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me, opens with some sparkling guitar before he launches into the vocal on an arrangement that stays true to the original. The rocking shuffle, Pretty Baby, is a retitled Ride With me Tonight. Not as original a rendition, but still this is solidly handled with some rollicking piano. Johnson adds a funky groove and a slightly quicker tempo to Born Under a Bad Sign. Since I downloaded this I do not know who played on this session, I cannot say who the vocalist is on the two closing selections, Quicksand and When There's A Will, There's A Way, but it may be John Watkins based on the listing of Johnson albums at

At its worst, Johnson provides us with solid covers, but at its best, he does make some overly recorded songs sound fresh and his vocals and guitar are typically first-rate. There are one-dimensional acts out there who are far better known than Jimmy Johnson, and to quote Fats Domino, "Ain't That a Shame."

Here (from youtube) is Jimmy backed by Dave Specter doing, You Don't Know What Love Is. Jimmy performs several songs with Dave on Dave's excellent Delmark album, Live in Chicago, available on CD and also on DVD.

1 comment:

Hard Luck Child said...

I own this album. It is highly enjoyable electric Blues.