Lonnie Johnson

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Lonnie Johnson, 1941

Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson (born February 8, 1899 in New Orleans , † June 16, 1970 in Toronto ) was an American blues and jazz musician . He was the first to play guitar solos in jazz and is considered a particularly innovative guitarist, “who ideally combined blues with jazz and ballad art. His influence ranged from Robert Johnson to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis . "

Live and act

Lonnie Johnson learned piano and violin as a child ; he began his career as a musician in various bars in New Orleans .

In 1917 he toured Europe to play and for some time joined Will Marion Cook and his band, the Southern Syncopated Orchestra . When he returned to New Orleans in 1918, his entire family except for one brother had died from the Spanish flu . During this time he also started playing the guitar. Two years later, in 1920, Lonnie Johnson and his surviving brother James "Steady Roll" Johnson moved to St. Louis , where Lonnie played with the Mississippi bands Charlie Creath ’s Jazz-O-Maniacs and Fate Marable’s .

After five years in St. Louis, Lonnie met the blues singer Mary Smith and married her ( Mary Johnson made her own recordings from 1929 to 1936 - but never together with Lonnie Johnson). That same year, Lonnie won a record deal with Okeh Records in a blues competition . Johnson then recorded as a guitarist (but until 1927 also as a violinist, on the mandolin, on the piano and the harmonium) in a variety of compositions: in a duet with his brother James "Steady Roll" Johnson and as a companion for Victoria Spivey , Spencer Williams and Texas Alexander . He also toured with Bessie Smith's T.OBA show. Due to Johnson's ingenious use of the violin in the blues, it becomes clear that this instrument was more common there than was previously assumed in historiography.

In Chicago in 1927 he worked on some recordings with Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five ; He also recorded with Duke Ellington and McKinney's Cotton Pickers and several times in duets with Eddie Lang (1927/1929) and with Joe Venuti . The recordings with the Hot Five and with Eddie Lang include early duos with the banjo player Johnny St. Cyr and the guitarist Lang, who convince with their single-note technique, their structure and the harmonies. From 1925 to 1932, Johnson, who also emerged as a singer, was one of the most popular African American record stars.

He then moved to Cleveland , Ohio , and worked with the Putney Dandridge Orchestra. Here, however, he was not very successful and had to work in a tire factory and in a rolling mill for some time. In 1937 he moved back to Chicago and played with Johnny Dodds and Jimmie Noone for Decca Records and also worked with Lil Hardin Armstrong .

In 1939 Johnson moved to the Bluebird label, where he made recordings with well-known pianists such as Blind John Davis , Roosevelt Sykes and Joshua Altheimer . From 1941 he turned to rhythm and blues and increasingly used the electric guitar. The piece Tomorrow Night that Lonnie 1948 for the record label King resumed, spent seven weeks at the R & B charts and was over three million records sold, one of the biggest hits of the year in the R & B charts .

In 1952 he was on tour in England, but worked as a hotel caretaker until the late 1950s, before he was rediscovered in 1960 by jazz DJ Chris Albertson . In 1962 he also played with Bob Dylan , whom he taught some musical tricks. In 1963 he toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival . From 1965 he lived in Toronto, where he recorded the album Stompin 'at the Penny . His last known recordings were made in 1967 in the form of two solo albums for Folkways Records .

In March 1969, Lonnie Johnson was seriously injured by a car. He then suffered a stroke that resulted in one-sided paralysis, which is why he could no longer play the guitar. On his penultimate live performance in February 1970, Johnson's vocals were therefore accompanied by guitarist Buddy Guy , his drummer Fred Below and bassist Jim McHarg. On Bloomsday 1970, Lonnie Johnson died of long-term effects of the accident.

Lonnie Johnson (1960; Photo: Chris Albertson )



  • Mark Miller: Way Down That Lonesome Road. Lonnie Johnson in Toronto 1965-1970. The Mercury Press. 2011. ISBN 978-1-55128-148-3 .

Chapters in books about Lonnie Johnson

  • "You Don't See Into These Blues Like Me". - Samuel B. Charters: The Country Blues. With a new introduction by the author. Da Capo Press, 1975. 73-85.
  • Chris Albertson: Lonnie Johnson. Chased by the blues. In: Pete Welding and Toby Byron (Eds.): Bluesland. Portraits of Twelve Major American Blues Masters. Dutton Book, 1991. 38-49.
  • Mr. Johnson's Blues. Lonnie Johnson. - James Sallis: The Guitar Players. One Instrument & its Masters in American Music, University Of Nebraska Press, 1994. 29-51.
  • Massey Hall (Lonnie Johnson). - John Goddard and Richard Crouse: Rock and Roll Toronto. From Alanis to Zeppelin. Doubleday, 1997. 151-159.
  • Jas Obrecht: "Lonnie Johnson - The Era's Most Influential Blues Guitarist"; in: ders .: Early Blues - The First Stars Of Blues Guitar. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. pp. 129-187

Lexigraphic entries on Lonnie Johnson

Web links


  1. The year of birth is controversial. His passport read 1894. In Bohländer Reclam's jazz guide from 1989 and in Summerfield's compendium The Jazz Guitar , it reads 1889 (with a question mark), in Kunzler's jazz dictionary (2002) and in Reclam's jazz dictionary , it also says 1889. The year 1900 is also sometimes given.
  2. Ulfert Goeman, in: Wolf Kampmann (Ed.), With the assistance of Ekkehard Jost : Reclams Jazzlexikon . Reclam, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-15-010528-5 , p. 272.
  3. ^ A b Barlow, William. Looking Up At Down: The Emergence of Blues Culture . Temple University Press (1989), pp. 259-263. ISBN 0-87722-583-4 .
  4. ^ Ed Ward: In the Beginning of the Blues, There Was a Violin in New York Times October 17, 1999; In addition to Johnson's Violin Blues , Joe Williams ' Baby, Please Don't Go (1935) is mentioned explicitly . Both pieces are included on the CD Violin, Sing the Blues for Me .
  5. The very high circulation of this record was due to the fact that it was re-released in the 1950s with a subsequently recorded female choir, adapted to the taste of the time.
  6. a b Facts about Lonnie Johnson's fairytale comeback in the 1960s (January 2010).