February 22, 2005
Proper Sales & Dist.
Blues, Country Blues, Early Jazz, Jazz Blues, Piedmont Blues, Acoustic Blues, St. Louis Blues, Pre-War Blues, Blues Revival, Regional Blues, Pre-War Country Blues

Album Review

Lonnie Johnson was best known for his tonally beautiful guitar playing, but he was also a fine singer and songwriter, and pretty adept on violin, piano, banjo, mandolin, harmonium, and bass as well. Equally at home in the blues or the jazz world (he worked with artists as raw as Texas Alexander and as polished as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington), Johnson's life as a professional musician began in the mid-'20s and stretched all the way into the 1960s, when his career was given an autumnal boost during the folk/blues revival. This four-disc 95-track box from Proper moves chronologically through Johnson's peak years with commercial labels, beginning with his prolific OKeh years, which are covered on the first two discs (highlights include several elegant instrumentals, a particularly fine solo version of W.C. Handy's "Careless Love," and some amazing duets with jazz guitarist Eddie Lang) and conclude on the third disc, the first part of which covers Johnson's last years with the label (he was released from his contract in 1932). After moving to Chicago, Johnson signed with Decca in 1937, and his amazing solo guitar performance called "Swing Out Rhythm" is included here from the Decca stay. In 1939 Johnson moved to RCA Victor's Bluebird imprint, and those sides round out the third disc and begin the fourth. In 1947, having switched from acoustic to electric guitar, Johnson left Bluebird, and after tracking some sides for Moe Asch's Disc label, followed by a brief stay at Aladdin, he began a long association with King. One of his first cuts for the label, "Tomorrow Night," included here, topped the R&B charts for several weeks in 1948 and touched off Johnson's R&B years, which saw the guitarist moving more toward ballads and working increasingly with large horn sections. His association with King ended in 1951, and his final commercial tracks for the label conclude disc four of this set. There are several single-disc releases of Lonnie Johnson's work on the market and casual listeners may well want to start with one of those, since there is a lot of repetition here (none of the musicians from the 1920s and 1930s could have anticipated having multi-disc box sets), but as an extensive overview of Johnson's peak years, The Original Guitar Wizard is a steal at a budget price.
Steve Leggett, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Mr. Johnson's Blues
  2. Johnson's Trio Stomp
  3. To Do This You Got to Know How
  4. South Bound Water
  5. I Done Told You
  6. Steppin' On the Blues
  7. Steady Grind
  8. Four Hands Are Better Than Two
  9. Woke Up With the Blues in My Fingers
  10. Backwater Blues
  11. Mean Old Bed Bug Blues
  12. Roaming Ramble Blues
  13. Stay Out of Walnut Street Alley
  14. St. Louis Cyclone Blues
  15. Bedbug Blues, Pt. 2
  16. Garter Snake Blues
  17. 6/88 Glide
  18. Life Saver Blues
  19. I'm Not Rough
  20. Sweet Potato Blues
  21. Hotter Than That
  22. Savoy Blues
  23. Playing With the Strings
  24. Stompin' Em Along Now
  25. Deep Blue Sea Blues
  26. No More Women Blues
  27. I'm So Tired of Living All Alone
  28. Crowing Rooster Blues
  29. Broken Levee Blues
  30. Careless Love
  31. Toothache Blues, Pts. 1-2
  32. Misty Mornin'
  33. Two Tone Stomp
  34. Have to Change Keys to Play These Blues
  35. It Feels So Good, Pts. 1-2
  36. Jet Black Blues
  37. Guitar Blues
  38. Blue Guitars
  39. Bullfrog Moan
  40. Sundown Blues
  41. The New Fallin' Rain Blues
  42. You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now, Pts. 1-2
  43. Hot Fingers
  44. Blue Room
  45. She's Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight
  46. Another Woman Booked Out and Bound to Go
  47. I Got the Best Jelly Roll in Town, Pts. 1-2
  48. The Dirty Dozen
  49. I Just Can't Stand These Blues
  50. Deep Sea Blues
  51. Long Black Train
  52. I Have to Do My Time
  53. No More Troubles Now
  54. You're Getting Old On Your Job
  55. Don't Wear It Out
  56. Got the Blues for Murder Only
  57. Let All Married Women Alone
  58. Beautiful But Dumb
  59. Sleepy Water Blues
  60. Uncle Red, Don't Use Your Head
  61. I'm Nuts About That Gal
  62. Racketeers Blues
  63. Swing Out Rhythm
  64. Why Women Go Wrong
  65. Jersey Belle Blues
  66. The Loveless Blues
  67. I'm Just Dumb
  68. Get Yourself Together
  69. Crowing Rooster Blues
  70. That's Love
  71. Lazy Woman Blues
  72. In Love Again
  73. He's a Jelly Roll Baker
  74. When You Feel Low Down
  75. The Victim of Love
  76. Watch Shorty
  77. Keep What You Got
  78. Love Is the Answer
  79. Tomorrow Night
  80. What a Real Woman
  81. Falling Rain Blues
  82. Working Man's Blues
  83. Playing Around
  84. Trouble Ain't Nothing But the Blues
  85. Blues Stay Away from Me
  86. Little Rockin' Chair
  87. Nothing But Trouble
  88. Why Should I Cry
  89. It Was All in Vain
  90. You Only Want Me When You're Lonely
  91. Me and My Crazy Self
  92. I'm Guilty
  93. Just Another Day
  94. You Can't Buy Love
  95. Can't Sleep Any More