Rediscovering Lonnie Johnson

Rediscovering Lonnie Johnson

by Jef Lee Johnson
     
 
Lonnie Johnson was arguably the first guitar gunslinger. Throughout his prolific 40-year career, he was continually amazing as a player, having single-handedly invented the concept of the lead guitar solo, both in a country blues context and in jazz settings (he worked with both Louis Armstrong and Duke

Overview

Lonnie Johnson was arguably the first guitar gunslinger. Throughout his prolific 40-year career, he was continually amazing as a player, having single-handedly invented the concept of the lead guitar solo, both in a country blues context and in jazz settings (he worked with both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, for example), and his playing pre-shadowed the work of Charlie Christian, T-Bone Walker, and many others. His pivotal role in the development of blues and jazz guitar often overshadows his equally striking abilities as a vocalist and songwriter, and he was a pure musician, equally proficient on violin, piano, banjo, mandolin, harmonium, and bass as well as guitar. Johnson's life as a professional musician began in the mid-'20s and stretched all the way into the '60s, when his career was given an autumnal boost during the folk/blues revival With an elegant guitar style that helped bridge country blues and the more modern urban R&B sound while at the same time keeping a dialogue going between jazz and the blues, Lonnie Johnson was simply one of the most important guitarists of his generation. Even so, he is hardly a household name these days, even for contemporary guitarists whose very musical path was plowed by Johnson as far back as the 1920s. It's that relative obscurity that Philadelphia-based producer Aaron Luis Levinson sought to address with this tribute to Johnson's life and career. Using Philly musicians, including members of the bands Blues Anatomy and Real Live Horns, and with some vocal help from veteran Geoff Muldaur, Levinson has assembled a nice little set list of some of Johnson's key pieces, including the ragtime-inflected instrumentals "Playing with the Strings" and "Swing out Rhythm" (handled here by guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, himself a player who straddles the jazz and pop worlds), and "Careless Love," a song Johnson recorded originally in 1928 and returned to again at his final session 40 years later (here it is sung by Eddie Davis of Blues Anatomy). Throughout the set Jay Davidson's horn arrangements pay homage to period details on these songs without attempting to replicate the sound of a bygone era, and the result is a nice hybrid of then and now, modernizing Johnson's musical feel and tone without seriously distorting it into a foreign realm, a trick that is much easier said than done. Nothing, of course, can replace Johnson's original recordings, but this warm-sounding set does a nice job of paying homage to a truly remarkable musician.

Product Details

Release Date:
03/25/2008
Label:
Range Records
UPC:
0186900000828
catalogNumber:
8

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Jef Lee Johnson   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar,12-string Guitar,Track Performer,Guitar (12 String Acoustic),Guest Appearance
Geoff Muldaur   Vocals,Track Performer,Guest Appearance
Jay Davidson   Saxophone,Track Performer,Guest Appearance
Eddie Davis   Vocals,Track Performer,Group Member
Steve Jankowski   Trumpet,Track Performer,Guest Appearance
Joel "The Octopus" Mass   Acoustic Guitar,Track Performer,Guitar (Resonator),Guest Appearance
Eddie Davis   Vocals
Jared Melson   Trombone,Track Performer,Guest Appearance
Rick Nollet   Acoustic Guitar,Rhythm Guitar,Track Performer,Group Member
Real Live Horns   Horn,Guest Appearance
Mike Suchodolski   Organ,Piano,Track Performer,Group Member
Joe Mass   national steel guitar
Lenny Gordon   Drums
Eddie Davis   Vocals
Rick Prince   Electric Bass

Technical Credits

Lonnie Johnson   Composer
W.C. Handy   Composer
Louis Armstrong   Composer
Jay Davidson   Horn Arrangements
Martha E. Koenig   Composer
Spencer Williams   Composer
Francis Davis   Liner Notes
Joel "The Octopus" Mass   Composer
Sam Coslow   Composer
Aaron Luis Levinson   Producer,Audio Production
Richard "Nappy" Myers   Executive Producer
Will Grosz   Composer
Dan Leider   Executive Producer
Brian Ritrovato   Engineer

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