The Michigan Daily-Wednesday, May 27, 1981-Page 7
JIMMY JOHNSON A TRICK'S
The blues guitarist extraordinaire
By FRED SCHILL
"If you don't enjoy yourself, you are
going to fall victim to the Reagan
regime. He loves for you to spend
money and not enjoy yourself," opined
drummer Ike Davis just before Jimmy
Johnson took the stage at Rick's
American CafeSaturday night.
"You already paid your two-fifty.
You are not going to get one dime back,
so you might as well enjoy yourself,"'
Davis pleaded. That's what it amounted
to, a plea, because much of the Rick's
crowd seemed unaware that there was
any difference between the Jimmy
Johnson Blues Band and any other
Saturday night bar band.
THEY WEREN'T listening. As a
blues guitarist, Jimmy Johnson is bet-
ter than Son Seals, better than Bob
Margolin, better even than Luther
Allison. His agile, fluid solos pack
more expressionistic wallop into three-
second chops than most guitarists can
deliver in entire sets.
Johnson specializes in a lean style of
blues more reminiscent of Muddy.
Waters Mississippi blues than high-
powered Chicago blues, even though
Johnson is from Chicago. His back-up
band consists of three musicians -
keyboardist Carl Snider, bassist Larry
Exum, and Davis - who lay down a
sparse blues foundation upon which
Johnson constructs his modern won-
Using a halting, thin style that
Chuck Berry later lost control of and
turned into rock and roll, Johnson
epitomized excellence in blues
musicianship. Spare, potentially
average tunes like "Cold Cold Feeling"
became vehicles for flickering,
screaming guitar solos characterized
by smooth, perceptive changes of pace
BLUES SONGS depend on such
musicianship to keep them alive. Given
the constraints of the genre and the
repetitive nature of the lyrics, master-
ful musical arrangements and
passionate vocals are a necessity. This
structural narrowness is both the
genre's strength and its weakness - it
demands ingenuity and talent in order
to survive, let alone succeed.
Johnson knows this intuitively. He
even fills breaks between lyrical
phrases with lithe, dexterous bursts
from his -guitar, produced at an ab-
solutely stunning speed. It's difficult to
Playing with the volume knob, John-
son plucked delicate, hushed solos that
suddenly wailed with mincing vigor.
Crossing his fingers on the frets to
wring out unheard-of riffs, waving his
guitar in front of the speakers and then
subjugating the feedback, following
curving and twisting notes with his
hips, Johnson was an inexhaustible
stockpile of priceless musical power.
HIS CRAFTINESS as a singer was
perhaps the most satisfying discovery,
as instrumental skill and vocal vir-
tuosity are a rare combination; vocal
shortcomings noticeably hampered the
performances of Luther Allison and
Bob Margolin when they were at
Johnson sings in a strong, flexible
tenor that recalled Smokey Robinson in
his bemused rendition of "Messin'
With the Kid." Yet he is also capable of
instilling just enough grit and rawness
to enforce the standard "Losing my
baby" lament of "Every Day I Got the
Blues" with impassioned credulity.
But his finest moment was an
agonized rendition of the Temptations'
classic "I Wish It Would Rain." Every
note was perfectly inflected, every
word impeccably accented, as Johnson
alone matched the aching soulfulness of
the Temptations note for note.
That one even brought the audience
alive, and Johnson gradually won his.
struggle for their attention. The couple -
behind me never stopped playing
backgammon, but at least they looked
interested a couple of times. Apparen-
tly, the spare arrangements and shif-
ting paces confused hell out of the dan-
cers and left non-blues partisans a bit
underwhelmed. That's too bad, because
they're not likely ever to hear a finer
is preserved on
The Michigan Daily
420 Maynard Street
Doily Photo by DAVID HARRIS
Blues guitarist Jimmy Johnson performing last weekend at Rick's
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