New Orleans Roots

Lonnie Johnson was born in New Orleans February 8, 1889. He flirted with violin, but the guitar finally won his heart. Although the the Crescent City is known as the cradle of jazz, there were some blues soloists, and in 1910 he was one that worked the "red light" district playing his guitar.

He toured England in 1917 with a musical revue as well as playing on riverboats or wherever the Theater Owner's Booking Agent (TOBA) found work on the Southern circuit. He got his recording contract with OKeh Records (where he met Leadbelly) the same year he won the talent show in 1925 at St. Louis.

He moved on to stardom, after he cut 130 "waxings" before 1932. Lonnie worked with jazz during 1927 with Louis Armstrong and his Hot 5, and Duke Ellington. During sessions in 1928 and 29 with Eddie Lang (A white jazz musician, who used the psuedonom "Blind Willie Dunn" during his blues "stepping down") they experimented together, especially with the plectrum method of playing that gave definition to solo and rhythm guitar, but he was so flowing in his style he almost need no accompanists.

Prolific Period

Surviving the Great Depression, Johnson began in 1939 a 5 year period of recording with Bluebird Records in Chicago. Lester Melrose managed to revive Lonnie's hit parade starting with "He's a Jelly Roll Baker" and then went to Cincinnati 1947 to record one of his biggest hits, topping the '48 list for two months on King Records: the slow and smooth, "Tomorrow Night." He followed with more smash successes: "Pleasing You (As Long as I Live)," "So Tired," and "Confused" until reaching stagnation in the end of the 1950's.

The Comeback Road

Banjo Player Elmer Snowden discovered Johnson performing in a Philadelphia hotel --- as a custodian, and by telling Chris Albertson of this incongruous career aberration which was henceforth corrected. Through Prestige Record's Bluesville label he released some early 60's album sessions. His comeback continued with a 1963 European tour with Horst Lippman and Fritz Rau's American Folk Blues Festival.

The enjoyment of the Blues renaissance of the late 60's was cut short by a fatal collision with a Toronto automobile, and he died in 1970 resulting from this tragedy.

He influenced so many during and after his lifetime, even the famous Robert Johnson, who is himself regarded as a standard. Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis paid their homage to this music giant with each of their versions of "Tomorrow Night."


  1. "He's a Jelly Roll Baker"
  2. 1939, Bluebird/RCA
  3. "Losing Game"
    1960, Prestige
  4. Blues & Ballads
  5. 1960, Bluesville/Original Blues Classics
  6. Blues, Ballads, and Jumpin' Jazz, Vol. 2
  7. 1960
  8. Blues by Lonnie Johnson

  9. 1960, Prestige
  10. Idle Hours

  11. 1961, Bluesville/Original Blues Classics
  12. Another Night to Cry
  13. ;
    1962, Bluesville
  14. The Originator of Modern Guitar Blues
  15. ;
    1980, Blues Boy
  16. Steppin' on the Blues
  17. 1990 Columbia/Legacy
  18. Blues Masters

  19. 1991
  20. Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1-7 (1925-1932)

  21. ;1991 Document
  22. Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2 (1940-1942)

  23. ;1991 Document
  24. Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 3 (1925-1932)

  25. ;1991 Document
  26. Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 3 (1944-1947)

  27. ;1991 Document
  28. Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 4 (1928-1929)

  29. ;1991 Document
  30. Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 5 (1925-1932)

  31. 1992, Document
  32. Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 6 (1925-1932)

  33. 1991, Document
  34. Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 7 (1925-1932)

  35. 1991 Document
  36. Me & My Crazy Self

  37. 1991, Charly
  38. Essential (Collector's Edition)

  39. 1996, Collector's Edition
  40. Blues in My Soul (1937/1946)

  41. 1998, Epm Musique
  42. Hot Fingers

  43. 1999
  44. Swing Out Rhythm

  45. 2000, Culture Press
  46. The Blues of Lonnie Johnson

  47. The Complete Folkways Recordings
  48. The Essential (Classic Blues)
  49. Unsung Blues Legend: Living Room Session
    ; 2000 Blues Magnet
  50. Mr. Johnson's Blues

  51. ;JSP

The Blues, Roots and Inspiration, John Collis; Salamander Books Ltd., London: 1997