Blues Bytes


May 2010

an associate
Order this CD today

Jimmy Johnson
I'm A Jockey

Jimmy Johnson

When I’m A Jockey was released by Polydor/Verve in 1994, it had been nine years since Jimmy Johnson had recorded an album. Many things had happened during that time. The most significant had occurred in late 1988, when the van Johnson was driving swerved off the road in Indiana and killed bass player Larry Exum and keyboardist St. James Bryant. Johnson was also injured in the wreck and understandably took a step back from performing for some time.

Johnson took a somewhat different path to playing the blues. Born into a musical family (Syl Johnson is his younger brother and his brother Mack Thompson played bass for Magic Sam), Johnson worked as a welder during the 1950’s, playing music as a hobby. He eventually started playing around Chicago in the late ’50s, but focused more on the R&B side since there was more money to be made, and his gospel-influenced vocal style made it a smooth fit. He played guitar for Otis Clay and Denise LaSalle before joining Jimmy Dawkins in the mid ’70s as a rhythm guitarist and eventually touring behind Otis Rush (appearing on Rush’s classic So Many Roads – Live In Concert). After he cut four tracks on Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues anthology, Johnson signed with Delmark, making a pair of marvelous recordings. He recorded the disc, Heap See, in France, which was picked up by Alligator in the early 1980s and released in the U.S. as Bar Room Preacher, an impressive album which really kick-started his career.

After the self-imposed hiatus, Johnson returned with a vengeance on I’m A Jockey. Teaming with a strong young rhythm section (Anthony Morris – bass, David Russell – drums, Jessie Lockridge – piano), a powerful horn section (Kenny Anderson – trumpet, Edwin Williams – trombone, Hank Ford – tenor sax, Byron Bowie – tenor and baritone saxes), and an all-star pair of guest stars (Billy Branch and Lucky Peterson), the goal was surprisingly simple in retrospect. Johnson’s background was as rooted in R&B and soul as it was the blues, so the effort was made to show both facets, mixing R&B with both Chicago and Mississippi blues.

R&B legend Gene Barge, who had worked for Chess, Atlantic, and Stax, was brought in to do the song arrangements. His arrangements breathed new life into some old classics, like “That Will Never Do,” highlighted by that tight horn section and some dazzling work on the keys by Lucky Peterson, and the old chestnut, “Look Over Yonder’s Walls,” punctuated by Billy Branch’s harmonica and Peterson on guitar.

Johnson gets a chance to stretch out with some exemplary guitar work on several sides, including a slow-burning nine-minute reading of “As The Years Go Passing By,” and a couple of his own compositions (the country blues “Highway 13” and the reggae-based “Black & White Wall”). He also does a masterful take of Percy Mayfield’s “The Highway Is Like A Woman” that is one of the highlights of the disc.

Actually, picking highlights on this disc is like eating Lay's Potato Chips…’s hard to stop with just one or two. The R&B tunes are as impressive as the blues tracks. Gamble and Huff’s “Engine Number 9” gets a funky reworking and Johnson does a sensitive reading of McKinley Mitchell’s “End Of A Rainbow.”

Johnson released a later CD for Ruf Records in 1999 and teamed with his brother Syl Johnson for a fine disc a couple of years later. Since then, he’s been quiet in the studio, but still keeps a busy performing schedule as he approaches his 82nd birthday.

Jimmy Johnson has never released an album that was less than stellar and I’m A Jockey doesn’t do anything to break that streak. One thing that has always appealed about Johnson is the fact that he is comfortable playing straight blues or straight R&B. This disc is probably the best example in his catalog of that versatility and is highly recommended for fans of Chicago Blues.

--- Graham Clarke
Read Graham's blog


[Pick Hit][What's New][Surprise][Flashback][Feedback][Back Issues][Home Page]



The Blues Bytes URL... 
Revised: April 30, 2010 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2010, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.