Thursday, July 30, 2009
The Original Guitar Wizard still sounds great
Lonnie Johnson was a pioneer guitarist who was influential in jazz as well as blues. he was not simply a marvelous singer, songwriter and deft, inventive guitarist, but also he was quite a balladeer. Proper Records issued a marvelous 4 CD box several years ago, The Original Guitar Wizard, with 95 choice recordings (some are two part) that range from 1924's "Mr. Johnson Blues" with James Johnson on piano and Alonzo (his real name) on violin to his post-war blues and ballads for King Records, including the hit "Tomorrow Night." Included are several accompaniments of Victoria Spivey, recordings with Louis Armstrong (including the celebrated "Hotter Than That") and Duke Ellington ("Misty Mornin'"). Then thee are the duets with Eddie Lang (or Blind Willie Dunn) such as "Blue Guitars" and "Bullfrog Moan" and even one side as part of Blind Willie Dunn's Gin 4 which included Joseph 'King' Oliver. There is the two part duet "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now" with Victoria Spivey (I believe a number B.B. King recorded in the sixties), as well as his "She's Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight," that King Solomon Hill waxed as "Whoopee Blues." He would sing about floods in "Backwater Blues," and tornadoes in "St. Louis Cyclone Blues," boast that "I Got the Best Jelly Roll in Town," and warn in "Racketeers Blues." Despite dating back as far as 85 years ago, his music still sounds modern today and as typical with proper, there is an excellent booklet that provides an overview of his life and recordings. Robert Johnson reportedly claimed to be one of the Johnson boys to pull on the more famous Lonnie Johnson's coattails, although I do not believe that the Lonnie Johnson recordings that he adapted are included in this compilation. Well on 4 CD's you can't include everything by one of the blues' most influential and pioneering performers. Bluebeat Music (www.bluebeatmusic.com) apparently still carries it.