Tommy Johnson (1896-1956) from Crystal Springs, Mississippi, was one of that state’s greatest blues singer/guitarists, an associate of Charley Patton,
Willie Brown, Ishman Bracey, Charlie McCoy, Rube Lacy, the Mississippi Sheiks, and many others. Although he recorded fewer than two dozen tracks in
1928 and 1930, his influence was profound, as he encouraged other musicians to learn his songs and perform with him. Among those who later recorded
versions of his songs were K. C. Douglas, Shirley Griffith, and Houston Stackhouse, and his musical ideas can be heard in the blues of Howlin’ Wolf,
the Mississippi Sheiks, Robert Nighthawk, and blues rockers Canned Heat, to name just a few.
David Evans began researching Johnson’s life and music in 1964 and interviewed, recorded, and observed the performances of over a dozen musicians who knew
and learned from Johnson, including his brother Mager Johnson, Babe Stovall, Roosevelt Holts, Bubba Brown, Mott Willis, Houston Stackhouse, Isaac Youngblood,
Arzo Youngblood, and Boogie Bill Webb. In this lesson Evans explains the guitar style of Tommy Johnson, with its relatively simple fingering positions
but complex rhythms, interpreting the songs as he learned them from Johnson’s disciples. The selections are performed in two keys of standard tuning
(E and A), dropped D tuning, and Spanish (open G) tuning.
A detailed tab/music booklet is included as a PDF file on the DVD. In addition the original 1928 recordings of the songs covered are included
Tunes include: Big Road Blues, Canned Heat Blues, Maggie Campbell Blues, Bye Bye Blues, Lonesome Home Blues, Slidin' Delta, Big Fat Mama Blues and a special bonus track of Prison Bound Blues never recorded by Johnson but performed by several of his disciples and learned from them by Evans.
118 minutes - Level 2/3 - Detailed tab/music PDF file on the DVD
Review: This is all about the Delta’s other iconic Johnson: the one who predated Robert as the Mississippi stud. The one who established his own stylistic school of guitar around Jackson by offering a more dashing, pinpoint, almost swinging alternative to the volcanic coarseness of Charley Patton or Son House. The one whose enduring shellac records, squeezed from the gap of 1928-1930, continue signing up fans beyond Howlin’ Wolf, Canned Heat and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The one fabled to have made a devil of a trade, down at the crossroads, for such supreme fretsmanship. Yes, the one and only Tommy Johnson.
Included within that fan club is professor David Evans, the leading living expert on all things Tommy Johnson. In the 1960s, Evans started making his famed rounds to Mississippi shotgun shacks, absorbing all he could about the bluesman (who died in 1956), right down to learning his guitar moves directly from those who learned directly from the master. That special relationship pays off with huge dividends here, including being privy to alternate song variations as well as the unrecorded “Prison Bound Blues.” In all, eight songs get dissected, including a classic shakedown (“Big Fat Mama Blues”), a train tune (“Slidin’ Delta”), a toxic ode to sipping Sterno (“Canned Heat Blues”) and, of course, the eternal gold standard (“Big Road Blues”). Transferred over to you are all the corresponding chords and licks, the thumb and three-finger strokes, the syncopated violence of snapping bass strings, and the clockwork precision in movement.
Yet fear not: No midnight deals need go down at the crossroads in order to play like Tommy Johnson. Just some time well spent with these two empowering hours. – Dennis Rozanski/Blues Rag