Lonnie Johnson

1949-1952

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New Orleans native Lonnie Johnson first appeared on record in 1925 with Charlie Creath and participated in a series of outstanding classic jazz and blues sessions at the close of the tumultuous '20s in the company of Eddie Lang, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. Over the years Johnson waxed an enormous number of records for the OKeh, Bluebird, Decca, Disc, and Aladdin labels, finally establishing himself as a smooth blues crooner with the King record company in Cincinnati from 1947 to 1952. While many of his OKeh blues recordings are almost indistinguishable from each other, Johnson's more mature performances for King used a small but sturdy set of stylistic variables that are demonstrated on this interesting compilation of recordings he made between November 1949 and June 1952. Lonnie Johnson sang sweetly with just the right amount of vibrato and a touch of grit. His "Little Rockin' Chair" brings to mind the noble integrity of Kansas City's Big Joe Turner. "Nothin' Clickin' Chicken" taps into a lighthearted jump groove worthy of Tampa Red or Washboard Sam. Many of the slower tunes, including "Old Fashioned Love," have a rich and creamy quality that owes something to Johnson's sweet slow dance sensation of 1948, "Tomorrow Night." Many of his King performances in fact open with the same measured strumming chords that characterized that number one R&B hit. Johnson's 1951 recordings are pleasantly fortified by tenor saxophonists Ray Felder, Eddie Smith, and Wilbur "Red" Prysock, complementing Johnson's vocal most effectively. Some of Johnson's material from this period crosses over into country music territory, represented here by a pair of tunes by the Delmore Brothers, "Troubles Ain't Nothing But the Blues" and the haunting "Blues Stay Away from Me." This tasty survey closes with the unusually full-bodied session of June 3, 1952. Here Johnson is backed by trumpet, three tough saxes, and a kicking rhythm section headed by pianist Todd Rhodes. Among the many Lonnie Johnson retrospectives on various reissue labels, this volume in the Classics Chronological Series stands with the very best.

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