As blues players, the name Robert Johnson comes up about as often as the word guitar… but there’s another Johnson, not related to Robert Johnson, who many would say was a much better player from even before Robert Johnson.
And that was Lonnie Johnson.
It’s been said, even, that Robert Johnson spent all his time trying to sound like Lonnie Johnson… and while he didn’t succeed exactly, on his way he forged his own sound.
Lonnie Johnson started making records way back in 1927 and played and recorded regularly until his death in 1970… with I believe over 130 recordings to his credit.
Personally, I would much rather listen to Lonnie Johnson (and I do) than Robert Johnson… particularly some of his later recordings where his style was more established. His playing is so smooth and seems so effortless while still being interesting to listen to.
Here’s one of his oldest clips where you can very much hear that old solo blues player/singer style:
and here’s another one with a fellow he played with often – Eddie Lang. Eddie was an excellent player in his own right, but with Lonnie he took to “comping” or accompanying Lonnie by playing small chords and some bass notes on the guitar. You’ll especially hear the jazz influence at the opening.
And finally one of my personal favorites and one of his later appearances:
Hopefully this will whet your appetite to check out a little more of the most under-recognized guitar players ever – Lonnie Johnson.