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tommy johnson

Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson – 1928 – 1929

Document Records – DOCD-5001
Cool drink of water blues – Big road blues – Bye-bye blues – Maggie Campbell blues – Canned heat blues – Lonesome home blues (take 1) – Lonesome home blues (take 2) – Big fat mama blues – I wonder to myself – Slidin` delta – Lonesome home blues – Boogaloosa woman – Morning prayer – Black mare blues (take 1) – Black mare blues (take 2) – Ridin` horse – Alcohol and jake blues

Tommy Johnson

Probably because he doesn’t have the same romantic aura around him as his homonym Robert, Tommy is not the Johnson that history, or more precisely the media, remembers.
His recording career was brief, with only 17 titles, all available here, but the quality was constant.
During two sessions, one for Victor (songs 1-8) and the other for Paramount (9 to 17), he recorded one of the most interesting, rich and unique catalogues in terms of Delta Blues that’ll influence many generations after him (Howlin Wolf, Houston Stackhouse…). He was also among the first to come with the “crossroad mythology”.
His voice is full of intensity, especially on autobiographical pieces like “Canned Heat Blues” or “Maggie Campbell Blues” (named after one of his wives) and can turn into a high-pitched falsetto, sometimes close to yodel. He supports it with a solid guitar style inspired by Charley Patton. Some sides show him backed by a second guitar (Charlie McCoy), a clarinet, and a piano on Black Mare Blues.
Maybe the Paramount sides, compared to the Victor recordings, don’t fit your quality standards, which is not a surprise from the label (Paramount, not Document), but make an effort, and you’ll be rewarded ten times by the quality of the music you’ll hear.
Sadly, Johnson’s bad temper and his alcoholic habits didn’t allow him to build a “serious” career, which I guess led to more alcoholism. He lost his royalties gambling and drinking and died in extreme poverty in 1956.
His musical legacy is a must-have for anyone interested in Delta Blues.

Available here
Fred “Virgil” Turgis