Jimmy Johnson...out of Holly Springs, Miss., by way of Memphis...mainly just a rumor to blues fans till he joined Jimmy Dawkins' band in 1974...certainly just a vague name to me when I first heard him one night at Big Duke's on west side in a band with Sunnyland Slim...I made a note of his soaring, high voice...then, suddenly, hired by Dawkins, who said he needed musicians he could depend on on the road...that first gig together...a party at some loft...after on hot guitar solo I remarked to Wes Race that I wasn't sure the band needed two standout guitar players...he siad not to worry...he was right...between sets, I introduced myself...asked if he had any records out...he said "yeah, but you haven't heard any of 'em"...I got amd and went to a record show on the south side that had a basement with a dirt floor, full of old 45's...literally moldy, some of them...what should turn up but "Work Your Thing" on the Stuff Label, by "Jimmie Johnson & The Lucky Hearts..." One night at Ma Bea's I asked Doris, the record spinner, to slip it in during the set break..."Yeah, that's me, all right--throw it away!"...Travels with Dawkins across country...the epic summer tour of Japan with Otis Rush...the live album...further adventures on Dawkins' Blisterstring...then, in a way, back to school...leaving Dawkins for a sting with The Aces at Louises...a lamentably short-lived band with Louis Myers...in 1976, at last, out on his own, the house band on Blue Mondays at Buddy Guy's Checkerboard Lounge...overnight, it seemed, he was playing all over town...hello central, Europe calling...an album for the French MCM label...back on the home front...the lead-off artist on Living Chicago Blues...
"Simply devastating," says Robert Palmer in Rolling Stone
"The hight point of the series...a revelation," writes Peter Guralnick in the Boston Phoenix
"My pick for the series' most valuable player," opines Steve Hoffman in the Unicorn Times
and according to Living Blues co-editor Jim O'Neal, "He's one of the modern Chicago blues idiom's most impressive singers and guitarists, a progressive stylist who combines technical expertise with soaring, gospel-influenced vocals."
what did Downbeat call them..."Steamrolling"
--Steve Tomashefsky, 1979
1. The Twelve Bar Blues
2. Ashes In My Ashtray
3. I Stand Alone
4. Slamming Doors
5. Take Five
6. Strange How I Miss You (When I Haven't Even Lost You Yet)
7. Poor Boy's Dream
8. I Need Some Easy Money
9. Drivin' Nails In My Coffin
10. Jockey Sports
When Jimmy Johnson's first album, Johnson's Whacks hit the streets at the end of the seventies, he was heralded as being part of a new blues generation that could actually write fully-realized, mature SONGS (as opposed to borrowing or stealing jukebox standards). Delmark even printed a lyric sheet for that LP, a first in blues cover art!
Delmark recently reissued North / South, a 1982 gem, for the CD age, and it's amazing how little this has dated. The bass-driven funk rhythms are definitely products of their time--any current bar band would have thumb popped these songs to excess, but Larry Exum's bass work still sounds tasteful this close to the new millennium...And each time you think you know where one of these songs is going, Johnson throws in a chordal progression that sounds appropriate.
--James Porter, New City