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.
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."
- "He's a Jelly Roll Baker"
- "Losing Game"
- Blues & Ballads
1960, Bluesville/Original Blues Classics
- Blues, Ballads, and Jumpin' Jazz, Vol. 2
- Blues by Lonnie Johnson
- Idle Hours
1961, Bluesville/Original Blues Classics
- Another Night to Cry;
- The Originator of Modern Guitar Blues ;
1980, Blues Boy
- Steppin' on the Blues
- Blues Masters
- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1-7 (1925-1932)
- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2 (1940-1942)
- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 3 (1925-1932)
- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 3 (1944-1947)
- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 4 (1928-1929)
- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 5 (1925-1932)
- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 6 (1925-1932)
- Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 7 (1925-1932)
- Me & My Crazy Self
- Essential (Collector's Edition)
1996, Collector's Edition
- Blues in My Soul (1937/1946)
1998, Epm Musique
- Hot Fingers
- Swing Out Rhythm
2000, Culture Press
- The Blues of Lonnie Johnson
The Complete Folkways Recordings
- The Essential (Classic Blues)
Unsung Blues Legend: Living Room Session
; 2000 Blues Magnet
- Mr. Johnson's Blues
The Blues, Roots and Inspiration, John Collis; Salamander Books Ltd., London: 1997