It can hardly be within the bounds of credibility that Jimmy Johnson the Charles Atlas of Chicago blues and soul, the Dorian Gray of guitar—will be 90 years old this year. And how is it possible that he is not a nationally-heralded celebrity for his sublime, soul-imbued vocals, ethereal guitar work, and solid stage presence?
The former welder, who is more t than some men a third of his age, exudes a jazzy sophisti- cation in his polished blues repertoire (for years his break song was Dave Brubeck’s reading of Paul Desmond’s 5/4 classic Take Five). Johnson, who sang gospel and backed all the Chicago soul greats after coming to Chicago from Holly Springs, Mississippi, has said that he’s still learning the blues.
However, it may be more to the point that the blues is still learning from him. The humble ironman has promulgated a modernization of blues, a melding of styles of both the music, the vocals and an approach to guitar that perhaps began with Matt Murphy, Magic Sam and Otis Rush and continues to inspire musicians such as local guitar stylist Dave Specter.
Of all the great, veteran guitarists on the Chicago blues scene, 2016 Blues Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Johnson perhaps best elicits the emotional intensity, incisive guitar licks and high-register, plaintive vocals of Otis Rush, with whom he accompanied on the 1975 Japanese tour that resulted in the acclaimed So Many Roads, reissued by Delmark.
Brother to both Chicago soul icon Syl Johnson and the late Mack Thompson (bassist for Magic Sam, Jimmy Dawkins, Mighty Joe Young, and others), Jimmy Johnson has amassed an impressive catalog of recordings—