LAZY LESTER: June 20, 1933 - August 22, 2018
Iconic blues legend Lazy Lester died of cancer on Wednesday, August 22 at his home in Paradise, California. He was 85. The multi-instrumentalist was known primarily for his down home harmonica skills and laconic vocals, but was also proficient on guitar and drums. He developed what he called “swamp blues,” a mix of blues, swamp pop and honky-tonk country music. Lester's high-pitched harmonica and 'lazy' vocals are blues archetypes.
Born Leslie Johnson just outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1933, Lester picked up a harmonica as a boy, quickly becoming proficient and eventually developing his own signature style. After a chance meeting with blues star Lightnin’ Slim, Lester was introduced to Excello Records owner Jay Miller, who signed him to the label. Lester's carefree personality prompted Miller to dub him "Lazy Lester." His first single, 1957’s I’m a Lover Not a Fighter,
was a major R&B hit, and was later recorded by The Kinks. Songs including Sugar Coated Love
, I Hear You Knocking
and Talk To You By Hand
helped Lester become an Excello star for over a decade.
He released his first full album, Lazy Lester Rides Again
, for the Blue Horizon label in the UK in 1987. Alligator Records released Harp & Soul
in 1988. He recorded albums for Antone’s and other labels into the 2000s, continuing to performing at festivals and clubs around the world in front of eager and appreciative fans, and he was a regular at the famed New Orleans Ponderosa Stomp music festival.
Lazy Lester was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2004 he was part of Martin Scorsese’s Radio City Music Hall concert that became the documentary, Lightning in a Bottle
. In 2012, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis. In June of this year, Geico Insurance featured Lester in a national television advertising campaign.