Lonnie Johnson

The Best of Lonnie Johnson

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New Orleans-born guitarist and singer Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson (1899-1970) was one of the great prolific recording artists of the early to middle 20th century. Equally at home with blues and jazz, he sat in with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, cut a lot of duets with Eddie Lang and Victoria Spivey, and enjoyed unforeseen success in the R&B market after signing with King Records in 1947. Released in 2005, the Blues Forever label's Best of Lonnie Johnson is presented as an inverted chronology from September 1950 to August 1932, opening with several King sides that resonate with his instantly recognizable electrically amplified guitar and proceeding backwards through a series of earlier titles, some of which feature pianist Blind John Davis. Written by Alabama-born brothers Alton and Rabon Delmore, "Blues Stay Away from Me" is a wonderful opener (follow this version with Doc Watson's and you're all set); Johnson's cover of Bessie Smith's "Backwater Blues" has a powerful sequel in his own "Flood Water Blues"; and "Tomorrow Night" is the best romantic number that he ever performed in front of a microphone. What's bothersome here is the careless use of the dreaded phrase "Best Of." Which are Lonnie Johnson's "best" recordings, and what criterion should be used to distinguish them from the rest? Seeing as there are plenty of well-constructed Lonnie Johnson collections to choose from, this one might be marginalized for not adequately demonstrating his textural and stylistic diversity. If no other Lonnie Johnson collection is available, by all means dive in and surround yourself with his personality.

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