Jimmy Johnson is one of Chicago's most passionate
blues singers and original guitarists, making him one of the area's top drawing
bluesmen. Locally, Johnson is rated the equal of such acclaimed Chicago bluesmen
as Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Lonnie Brooks and Son Seals.
Johnson's lone release on Alligator Records, Bar Room
was an important step in
solidifying Johnson's reputation as one of this country's top contemporary
bluesmen. The album was a prime showcase for his high,
gospel-tinged voice and elegantly jazzy, stinging guitar.
Raised in an exceptionally musical family in the small town of Holly Springs,
Mississippi, Johnson began singing in the local church choir. He later sang with
the United Five, a spiritual group in Memphis. After his move to Chicago in
1950, he sang and played guitar with the Golden Jubilaires.
Johnson's younger brothers, Mac and Syl, took up the blues early on and became
professional Chicago blues musicians while their older brother was still working as
a welder and singing with Windy City gospel groups. Mac spent many years as Magic
Sam's bassist. Syl Johnson, a popular soul singer with a string of R&B
hits under his belt (including the original version of Take Me To The
), has also remained strongly rooted in the blues.
It wasn't until the late 1950s that Johnson became a professional performer
himself. In 1959, he began playing with bluesmen Magic Sam and Freddie King, and
gigged with Harmonica Slim Willis and others. Though his first love was the
blues, there was more money to be made as an R&B artist. Johnson spent the
next 20 years jobbing as a highly successful soul and R&B guitarist and
bandleader on Chicago's South and West sides.
Johnson finally grew tired of covering everyone else's hits and decided to
pursue blues full-time. In 1974, he began his back-to-the-blues campaign when he
signed on with Jimmy Dawkins as Dawkins' rhythm guitarist. He toured Japan with
Dawkins and Otis Rush, appearing on Rush's live Japanese album and two Dawkins
studio albums before putting together his own band.
Johnson's debut as a blues recording artist was
explosive. In 1978, his name first garnered national attention as well as a Grammy nomination
when Alligator included four previously unreleased Johnson tracks on Living Chicago
Blues, Vol. 1.
These cuts, and two soon-to-follow records on the
Delmark label (Johnson's Whacks
in 1979 and North/South
in 1982), established Johnson
as a witty and prolific songwriter who combined challenging arrangements and elements
of jazz, rock, gospel and country into a blues style all his own.
Johnson's approach to the blues is straight ahead and honest. His 1985 Alligator
effort, Bar Room Preacher,
features vibrant renditions of such
standards Cold, Cold Feeling, When My First Wife Quit Me
as well as Johnson originals Happy Home, Heap See
and Missing Link.
Johnson has won a variety of national and international awards over the course of his career.
Since recording for Alligator and Delmark, Johnson has remained active in music and
continues to tour and record.