Let’s Explore The Blues – Lonnie Johnson
Lonnie Johnson was another of the great 20’s and 30’s blues-men. The difference in this case is that there is video of him performing his craft. To get us in the mood for his story, here is Lonnie playing “Another Night To Cry“.
Another Night To Cry
Lonnie’s story begins in Louisiana, where he was born in 1899. Like most families of that era, tragedy struck early and often. While on tour in England in 1917, he returned to his home in 1919 only to find that his entire family, except one brother, James, had died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. They moved to St. Louis, where he honed his craft, eventually winning a blues contest in 1925. The prize, luckily for us, was a recording contract with Okeh Records. His career took off at this point, appearing on recordings of such greats as Louis Armstrong, Victoria Spivey and Bessie Smith.
She’s Only A Woman
His guitar style is a jazz-blues mix. His playing was so different from the standards of the day that he has been widely credited with creating the “guitar solo”. He also mainstreamed the jazz guitar, showing along the way that is was a practical and important innovation to the blues scene of the day. A true pioneer.
There is a story that says that Robert Johnson saw Lonnie as his idol. Some say that a lot of Robert’s songs were merely updated versions of Lonnie’s tunes. It is also said that Robert used say he was Lonnie’s brother even though they were not related.
He eventually left Okeh Records to begin recording with Decca Records. He continued to play and tour with the best. He morphed to the R&B side of things once WW2 ended. One of his major hits of the time was a song that was later recorded by Elvis early in his recording life.
The Elvis version.
Lonnie ended up in Toronto, Canada where he set up a blues club. Unfortunately it failed. In 1969, he was hit by a car. He never fully recovered, and died in June of 1970. Prior to his death, he sang a few songs at a benefit concert in his honour. Players that paid their respects were people like Buddy Guy, Hagood Hardy and John Lee Hooker.