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.

    40 replies to "The “Other” Johnson…"

    • JDominique

      I mean the first song, sorry

    • JDominique

      I feel the simng is worth learning. Thank you.

    • jim

      Thanks, Griff!!! Wow, what a generous lesson on Lonnie Johnson.
      Every time I get one of these little lesson “gems” from Griff, I feel as if
      I’m taking a free Blues Guitar College Course…and I only bought a couple of books (with pleasure!)
      These guys (Lonnie and Robert) were great (for their time), but I’m amazed at how far guitar playing skills have come.
      Griff could play circles around these guys (with all due respect).

    • Anthony Blancett

      Thanks for sharing and keep on picking.

    • sanford pillsbury

      Check out this website if you would like to learn more about Lonnie Johnson.

    • ChrisGSP

      Hi Griff,
      Other replies have mentioned Eric and Tommy Johnson, and Lonnie Donegan, but what about LONNIE MACK? I don’t think he has any connection to Lonnie Johnson except the usual influence, but what a player! The album he did with Stevie Ray Vaughan called “Strike Like Lightning” in 1985 is a monster. I was only listening to it again last week. Lonnie Mack was one of Stevie Ray’s most important influences and Stevie praised Lonnie’s playing at every opportunity. Their little acoustic blues piece “Oreo Cookie Blues” on that album is one of my all-time favourites. Check it out on YouTube and see the great big grin in Stevie Ray’s face, playing with his hero.
      Chris G.

    • tony

      Speaking of under reconized guitar players . Heres one for You . Gene Pitney, I had meet him at age 5 . He had long hair at that time and had not written a town with no pity yet . He was refering to Rockville Ct. the town I grew up in . He and my uncle were playing together for awhile and had a friend Alice she was my neighbor . My family Alices and one other went to water ski together . Ok so heres Gene one day with us but He is up one a hill in the pines on a picnic tble with a guitar a beer and puffing on a cigarette . I was asked not to bother Him but I did anyway. He talked to Me and asked My opinion on a tune He was praticing on. I said it was pretty good . well at 5 and that was 1964 the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were making there way up. Anyway My uncle quit Genes band only to find that the Stones asked Gene to help write some songs for them .My uncle still kicks His behind for quiting with Genes band . Think I told this true story once before . Unfortunatly Gene did this for the stones as a silient colaborator . I think some of the piano stuff in the early stones music is Gene playing . Oh almost forgot a town with no pity was at the top of the music charts for a long time . C YA

      • tony

        check out this video of the stones early days Stewed and keefed ( brains blues ) The vocals were cut . The piano player is Gene Pitney . Cannot see him just the stones .

    • Michael Chappell

      Hey Griff,

      Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories of Blues Guitar foundation & history. Sweet As.

      Michael – Sydney- Australia April 2016.

    • Richard Poole


      • Colin.K.

        Hi Folks, Never thought these two would come up for discussion in modern times. I only have one of theirs, a 60,s bought, rather scratched copy of the Vinyl L.P. “Blue Guitars” . Great Listening, must check out D.V.D. availability as this old vin
        yl is defo wearing out. They even got Louis Armstrong in there with em on a couple of tracks. Great stuff indeed.

    • John Pagliuca

      Some years back Prestige/Bluesville brought out two CDs of previously unreleased recordings from a 1960 session featuring Lonnie Johnson and Elmer Snowden: Blues and Ballads volumes 1 and 2.

      Great music, Johnson’s playing is so effortless and beautiful.

    • Grandpajams

      AWSOME griff thanks for the history lesson.had not heard of Larry Johnson till now.

    • Pete from philly

      Quite a bit ahead of the curve for his time, don’t you think? Loved the history lesson.

    • kenneth

      what can I say them johnsons have got it together..

    • Joe Accardo

      I’ve heard of him,but not familiar with his music. I especially enjoyed the last clip the instrumental he does. You could hear the jazz influence. Great stuff, thanks Griff.

    • Gary

      Great stuff, never heard or newl of him.

    • John

      Great stuff thanks Griff.

    • Rosko

      Just goes to show, there’s always more to know, and there is more to learn from the past. Thanks Griff, great as always – Rosko

    • Dallas Berry, Sr.

      Great Stuff. My first time hearing him; I will definitely check him out.Thanks.

    • Sloppy John Weaver

      You probably know this, towards the end of his life Lonnie stopped playing guitar and worked as a janitor in Philadelphia.

    • Bill

      Great Stuff! But you can’t just leave it at that. I KNOW there will be a Lonnie Johnson lesson coming soon!

    • Rito Ranger

      This Johnson is good,,he can play a bit different than the other Johnson,,, both have their place.

    • Gary A

      Thanks Griff, always enjoy getting these tidbits from you.

    • Stanley King

      I stole one of Lonnie Johnson’s signature licks in Amin, and stuck it in one of your tunes Griff, out of the AGBL course.

    • fran rivkin

      i’ve always loved lonnie johnson. thanks so much for pulling these together.

    • Royce Owens

      Definitely a rag-time / jazz influence in his later work. Very good, thanks.

    • Frank Morgigno

      Great Stuff Griff. These are the guys who inspired modern day “legends” like Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Page, George Harrison, Chuck Berry and so many others. Robert Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and others of their time are the guys who put blues on the map.

    • John Allison

      One Anthony Donegan, jazz guitar and banjo player in the UK’s Chris Barber Jazz Band adopted the first name in homage to Mr. Johnson, and became the late great Lonnie Donegan the skiffle King!

    • Jeff Vowells

      What did they use back then for a strap? It looks like a piece of clothes line tied on there? Or a belt. What do you think? I know when I was in a spot I would use anything I could find,sometimes nothing!

    • joe kenel

      love finding out where it all came from THANKS GRIFF !!!!!

    • dominic

      the Levy is way cool blues

    • Pete B

      Real sweet playing from Mr Lonnie Johnson. Thanks for another treat and yet more inspiration Griff.
      Selling your soul to the devil might be one way to improve your playing but practice has got to be less apocalyptic and you can stick around a while to enjoy it, it sounded like Lonnie did.

    • Tom T

      Robert Johnson knew and admired Lonnie Johnson. So much so, that at one point in his career, Robert became known simply as “R L” telling people that L stood for Lonnie. Robert also wrote two songs very much in the Lonnie Johnson style.
      There is also another Johnson in Robert’s past–Tommy Johnson. Tommy may have been an early mentor for Robert. Here is a YouTube link for Tommy

      Thanks Griff. Remembering these originals is helpful for all of us.

    • frank baxter

      Good stuff,thanks a bunch and can you still find His recordings.
      a wood box and maybe a de armond hung on it,I used one late 40’s
      had to use wound “B” string,replace every night not sure if they
      still make’um.

    • lego_ge47

      Anyone ever hear the recording “Take The A-Train” by Homer and Jethro. The last video reminds me of that. (Homer and Jethro were more famous for comedy but they were also excellent guitarists. Check them out on YouTube.)

    • Jezz

      Very good player must confess I had never heard of him before

    • Scott Fontenot

      Great blues from Lonnie Johnson. I will definitely check him out.

    • @robert green


      • Mark Gavin

        Very cool. Eddie Lang was supposedly the first jazz guitarist. There is also the modern day Johnson – Eric.

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