Pete Johnson

1939-1941

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Born in Kansas City, Pete Johnson began his musical career as a drummer but soon learned how to massage a piano under the tutelage of his uncle Charles "Smash" Johnson. During the early 1930s, Pete worked overtime performing as a solo act in his hometown. For those who have a healthy appetite for piano blues and boogie-woogie, you're not going to find anyone more authentically rooted in the Kansas City tradition. This portion of the Pete Johnson chronology begins with four sides cut for the Blue Note label in December of 1939. The "Holler Stomp" is an exceptionally fine accelerated romp for unaccompanied piano. Everything you need to know about the real boogie-woogie is contained in this red-hot four-minute performance. It defines the entire genre. Continuing the rapid pace, "Barrelhouse Breakdown" is performed by Johnson's Blues Trio, with Abe Bolar's superb string bass and the guitar of Ulysses Livingston. The trio eases into blue relaxation with "Kansas City Farewell," a very cool stroll during which the musicians make good use of the four full minutes allowed by 12" 78 rpm records. "You Don't Know My Mind" is a fundamental blues for solo piano, every bit as rich and rewarding as its flip side, the "Holler Stomp." Never chained to one label for very long, Johnson switched to Decca Records during the following year, knocking off a pair of solo boogies in August and the "627 Stomp," possibly the greatest ensemble record of his entire career, on November 11, 1940. The front line of Hot Lips Page with reedmen Eddie Barefield, Don Stovall and Don Byas was perfectly supported by Johnson's ace rhythm section, notably driven by legendary percussionist A.G. Godley. The flip side, "Piney Brown Blues," was issued under the heading of Joe Turner and His Fly Cats. Johnson and Turner's partnership dated back to the early 1930s, when Joe was locally famous as a singing bartender. What we have in "Piney Brown" is the keystone of Turner's entire recording career. 1941 found Johnson recording a stack of piano duets for Victor with the amazing Albert Ammons. Additional friction was supplied by percussionist Jimmie Hoskins. If Godley is more your speed, "Death Ray Boogie" opens four additional trio sides for Decca from May of 1941. Nestled between three excellent studies in boogie rhythm, "Just for You" offers a rare glimpse at Pete Johnson's way of handling a simple love song. He sounds in fact more than a little like Fats Waller. It is a small romantic islet floating in the middle of an ocean swarming with blues and boogies.

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