Chicago blues man Johnny Dollar is a mass of contradictions. Those who have heard him play in joints like Lilly's in the Windy City know firsthand that his guitar playing is a thing of beauty, a tribute to the concept of total control. But those who know him have seen his edgy and impatient side. They have characterized him as kind and gallant and chivalrous, while at the same time recalling that Dollar has a roving eye for pretty ladies, and he also likes more than an occasional drink. So far, the description sounds perfect for someone who plays the blues. But in Dollar's case, the story gets even more blues worthy. The guitarist survived at least five gunshots, and he's got the belly and back scars to prove it, along with one shot to his head. He fought in Vietnam, where he escaped even minor injuries, and later worked the tough neighborhoods of his hometown, walking a police beat where they shot him. An injury that occurred toward the end of the 1970s cut short his law enforcement career. With that kind of history, the fact that he likes to nip the whiskey or kiss a pair of lipstick-red lips more than is good for him suddenly seems a little more understandable. And Dollar is good at putting all that history, and all that feeling, into his music. He can sing an audience into tasting the tang of the liquor or savoring the sweetness of that forbidden kiss.
He started out playing with Magic Sam in Chicago during the 1960s. Eight years of military service followed, with the blues man devoting himself to the Marines and serving two tours in Vietnam. The first time he joined the military, he was underage and enlisted by using his older brother's name. After three years, his lie was discovered and the Marines shipped him back to Chicago. When Dollar finally reached the legal age of 18, he returned to the military via the draft. When he left the service at the end of the decade and headed back to Chicago, the guitarist joined the Soundmasters, an outfit that played R&B with Dollar in the lead vocalist spot. He was the only member of the group who wasn't a sibling from the Fisher family. Besides Dollar, the Soundmasters' lineup consisted of Fisher brothers Thomas, Charles, Eddie, and Jim. The group's singles included "Your Love Has Got to Me." Dollar continued to play Chicago nightspots throughout the 1970s and into the following decade, and he also performed in Europe. Still performing around the Windy City, Dollar suffers from congestive heart failure.