Friday, March 26, 2010
Johnnie JOHNSON - Rocking Eighty Eight 1990
A gem that only shines brighter as the days go passing by, this is a swinging, jumping, gutsy masterpiece. Johnnie Johnson, Clayton Love, and the late Jimmy Vaughn take turns leading Johnson's band through a live-to-DAT journey that covers a variety of St. Louis blues and R&B.
By Roundup Newsletter, All Music Guide.
Born in Fairmont, Virginia, in 1924, Johnson taught himself to play piano by ear and played his first radio gig at age eight. As he told interviewer Ken Burke of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, he "didn't even know what a piano was" when he was first introduced to the instrument at age five. "My parents bought a piano and put it in the home. To me it was a great big toy and I went over and went to banging on it, running everybody out of the house. Finally I started hitting on keys and things that made a sound that I liked, and I just kept developing that sound until I just started playing." Eventually, Johnson explained, he could play along to records by ear. "I could hear what they were playing and I could get on the piano and follow them," he said. "That's the way I developed my playing until I got up where I actually knew some of what I was doing." By the time he was 13, he had joined his first band, the Blue Rhythm Swingsters.
Johnson moved to Detroit in 1941 to work at one of the Ford defense plants in nearby Dearborn, Michigan. At the same time, he found gigs in local clubs and at private parties, and competed for jobs with various bands. In 1943 he joined the Marines, serving in the South Pacific, where he played in a 23-piece band called The Barracudas. "That's when I kinda made up my mind that I wanted to be a professional musician," he told Burke.
After leaving the service Johnson returned to Detroit, where he discovered the blues music of T-Bone Walker. "Finally I ended up in St. Louis, met Chuck Berry, and I hired him one night because I was short a musician," he said. "And that's when history actually started."
Considered by Rolling Stone to be "the greatest sideman in rock & roll," pianist Johnnie Johnson spent most of his career in the shadow of his musical partner, Chuck Berry. Johnson played on most of Berry's hit records and co-wrote the music for several of Berry's songs, but did not begin to achieve particular recognition until he pursued a solo career in his seventies.
After Johnson came out of retirement to appear in the Chuck Berry concert film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll in 1986, interest in his music grew. The following year, he put out his first solo album, Blue Hand Johnnie, the first of several well-received recordings. He also toured extensively, playing with such superstars as the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. When Johnson died in 2005 at age 80, he was at the height of his musical fame.
Pianist Johnnie Johnson was one of the stalwarts of Chuck Berry’s sound. And he may have written or co-written some of Berry’s biggest hits. Johnson spent some time out of the limelight in the ‘70s and’80s, but after Keith Richards enlisted him for the 1986 Chuck Berry tribute film “Hail! Hail! Rock n’ Roll“, he revitalized his career. As a “living legend” he graced the stage alongside quite a few rockers during this latter period.
Much of this disc returns Johnson to his roots in swing and jump blues. Johnson, who cited the likes of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson as his idols, comports himself elegantly in this setting.” A Good Day” replicates Berry’s hyper-charged rock n’ roll cadence, but even here Johnson prefers to lay carefully timed splays atop his accompaniment with Basie-like precision. “The Blues Don’t Knock”, sparked by guitarist Rich McDonough’s fiery string-bending, is a grittier outing, cast in a minor key. Johnson’s comping.. is rhythmically sure and harmonically rich, and his brief solo melds deep blues soulfulness with deft fingered improvisational elan. “Better Sell My House” is marred by guest vocalist Victor “Big Daddy” Johnson’s labored Wolf imitation (elsewhere, vocalist Larry Thurston winningly mixed bluesy grit with uptown class), but Johnnie weighs in with a solo that toys with timing and meter yet never departs from the song’s steady rolling blues groove.
Johnnie Johnson died in April of 2005, so this disc has become a posthumous tribute. As such, it’s a moving and satisfying musical portrait of an important - if still too often unheralded - stylist in the full flourish of his latter day gifts.
01. Frances (4:13)
02. Goin' Home (2:52)
03. New Big-Legged Woman (3:58)
04. Bluebird (5:10)
05. Ida's Song (4:16)
06. Goin' Down Slow (4:31)
07. Hey! Come 'ere (2:20)
08. Slidin' Serenade (5:56)
09. Don't You Lie to Me (3:08)
10. After Hours (4:09)
11. Ripple Wine Dream (5:02)
12. Big Question (3:44)