Robert "Billy" Johnson

Biography by

The guitarist Robert "Billy" Johnson is a name to be reckoned with in reggae but should not be confused with a somewhat younger performer of the same name and nickname whose Bay Area activities…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

The guitarist Robert "Billy" Johnson is a name to be reckoned with in reggae but should not be confused with a somewhat younger performer of the same name and nickname whose Bay Area activities included stints with Santana and John Lee Hooker. Reggae picker Johnson first came to attention as part of Lee "Scratch" Perry's recording crew in the '70s, appearing on several albums that are considered classics in the genre.

Heart of the Congos might be the only complete album ever made by the duo known as the Congos, but it has received more praise than an entire stack of sides by the Wailers. It has been described as one of the ten best albums ever made in this genre as well as a landmark, although taken literally it is doubtful the album would even be visible at all over the tops of hemp plants and other colorful island vegetation. In fact, it is lucky the album was heard at all considering that it wasn't officially released until 20 years after it was recorded.

Johnson often played in tandem with the superb guitarist Ernest Ranglin. The contributions of these players might seem slight to guitar fans brought up on heavy metal solos or endless jazz noodling, but the chordal upstroke that helps define reggae certainly deserves the support of a slogan such as "don't knock it till you've tried it," however clich├ęd as that might seem. Like Ranglin, Johnson continued his career in the ensuing decades, often working from a European base. He even stretches out and offers a few guitar solos on recordings by groups such as Amparanoia.