Monday, March 06, 2006

Lonnie Johnson - Steppin' on the Blues (Columbia, 1990)

Of all of the prolific pre-war bluesmen, very few could match the instrumental virtuosity of guitarist and singer Lonnie Johnson. Johnson jammed with Django Reinhardt, performed with Duke Ellington and also cut gutbucket blues for the "race records" market of the mid 1920's which is where this collection comes from. This is a diverse group of recordings, featuring Johnson in duets with jazz guitarist Eddie Lang, dazzling solo guitar rags, blues with vocals and even a duet with a female blues singer. This variety of talents would help him as tastes in music would change going into the swing era and even into the 1960's blues revival when he had a brief comeback.

Johnson was a pretty good songwriter too, not pulling any punches when going down in the alley on titles like "Got the Blues for Murder Only" and "She'll be Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight." but he could also cut light-hearted and risque tunes as well, like the two part duet "Toothache Blues." This is a good hour long introduction to Johnson's music, and all things considered, the sound quality isn't that bad, considering that these records were made at the dawn of recorded music. But the time is probably ripe for Columbia to give these a sonic overhaul - this is part of American musical history that shouldn't be missed, especially by fans of old-time music and blues history.

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