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December 2000

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Buy the latest Johnny Jenkins CD today

... and check out some of Jenkins' excellent earlier releases ...

Ton Ton Macoute

Blessed Blues

 


Surprise

Johnny Jenkins
Handle With Care
Mean Old World Records

Johnny JenkinsMacon, Georgia's Johnny Jenkins may not be well-known, but the artists he has worked with and influenced over the past 40 years cut a pretty wide path through the world of rock, soul, and blues. Jenkins' band, the Pinetoppers, was the stuff of local legend during the late 50s and early 60s and featured a young Otis Redding as lead vocalist. Otis, who was also serving as Johnny's valet, recorded his first hit, "These Arms of Mine" (with Jenkins on guitar), using the remainder of a Jenkins session for Stax Records in 1962. Stax first envisioned Redding and Jenkins as a duo (Otis on vocals, Johnny on guitar), but Jenkins declined, ironically, because he didn't like air travel.

Jenkins' guitar work and showmanship also left a lasting impression on a young Jimi Hendrix, who caught his act while visiting relatives in the Macon area. In 1970, Jenkins recorded Ton Ton Macoute, accompanied by assorted members of the Allman Brothers (some of the tracks were originally intended for a Duane Allman solo effort). It received rave reviews, but Capricorn was shifting it's focus to the suddenly successful Allmans. 

Jenkins recorded another album in 1975 which was never released and, frustrated by the music business, he returned to Macon to be with his family. In 1996, Jenkins resurfaced to record Blessed Blues on the newly reformed Capricorn label. This effort, more blues-based than his first, was nominated for a Handy Award. 

Recently, Jenkins released his third effort, Handle With Care, on the Athens, Georgia-based Mean Old World Records. The ten tracks are a mixture of soul and blues, with about half of the tracks coming from the aborted 1975 session. They include "Swift Creek" and "Take That," a pair of tight instrumentals with Jenkins' soulful, ringing guitar highlighted, and the soulful "Come In Out of the Rain." 

Two of the other tracks are remakes of a pair of Jenkins' Stax singles from the mid-60s, "Spunky" and "Bashful Guitar" (both instrumentals). Among the new tracks (some written or co-written by Jenkins' brother, Terry), the standouts are the horn-propelled opener, "Cry Like A Man" and "Johnny's Blues," showcasing Johnny's guitar and vocals in the blues vein, which suits his vocal talents better. 

Jenkins would be the first to tell you that he's no great shakes in the vocal department, but he acquits himself pretty well on the five songs on which he sings on this CD. He's a little tentative on the first two tracks, but by the time he gets to "Johnny's Blues" and "Come In Out of the Rain," he's in the groove to stay. Also, his guitar work is featured more than on his two previous releases, so you can now hear what the fuss was all about thirty years ago. 

While Jenkins did pen most of the songs here, the most heartfelt would have to be his reconstruction of Ashford and Simpson's "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)." Before your gag reflex kicks in, understand that the only part of the original song left intact is the music. Jenkins performs a spoken word narration in place of the original lyrics. The lyrics are autobiographical, as Jenkins recalls, sometimes overtaken by emotion, the people in his life who were there to take his hand and help him through the many tough times he has encountered and how he hopes to return the favor some day. Listening to this highly personal track, it's hard not to get the feeling that Johnny Jenkins knows how far back he's come from the depths and that, hopefully, he's not going away again anytime soon. 

This CD is hard to find, but worth the search. You can go to Mean Old World's website (www.meanoldworld.com) for ordering information.

--- Graham Clarke

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