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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Daddy When Is Mama Coming Home - Big Jack Johnson

Big Jack Johnson, born July 30, 1940 in Lambert MS is one of the most popular and influential of the contemporary Delta Blues musicians active today. He is affectionately known as the "Oil Man", a nickname he earned during his early years working for Shell Oil as a truck driver. He was first influenced by his father to take up the guitar and quickly mastered the finer points of the blues by sitting in with his father's band around the area in his early teens. As a young blues musician, he came under the sway of the eloquent electric single string work of BB and Albert King.

Influenced not only by the blues music all around him, but also by the sounds of the white Country artists emanating out of the Grand Ole Opry, Big Jack's music is that of the Mississippi juke joint. He peppers his blues with not only the traditional blues of his fellow Mississippi and Chicago forbearers but also brings elements of funk and soul that keeps the dance floors packed.

His music bears the mark of an artist that has lived his art form: his guitar style is uniquely his own, full of aggressive rhythmic twists and innovative lines that jump out at the listener: It is a tough style that is also both melodic and lyrical and is equal parts delta grit and West Side Chicago finesse crossed with pure Mississippi gumption. His penchant for reworking vocal songs into instrumental launching points for his single string flights similar to the great novelty guitar instrumentals a la Freddy King was what initially captured this fan. His vocals ring with a warm Mississippi tone and accent and he sings with the emotional directness that is the perfect counterpoint to his guitar work. His vocals look back to the roots of the blues and when he howls or growls in the vein of his hero Howlin' Wolf you know you are in the presence of the real deal, perhaps the last of the great delta bluesmen.

Jack's guitar playing has long been acknowledged as some of the most exciting and beautiful pure blues playing today. Most however, may be surprised to learn of Jack's command of the bass (a little known fact is that outside of the Jelly Roll Kings, Jack also played bass behind Country music star Conway Twitty during the 70's for a spell, a time that also included Sam Carr on drums on occasion), and that he also plays beautiful blues mandolin.

Blues mandolin is an art form that is sadly absent from today's scene, having never truly caught on much beyond the electric post war blues boom even in Chicago where the likes of Johnny Young recorded frequently on mandolin, but gained little attention. Perhaps because in the fashionable age of electric guitars the mandolin remained too rooted in the simple country traditions of the South and was out of fashion next to the slick productions of the urban bluesmen. Regardless, the mandolin played a largely overlooked but important role nonetheless in the development of the blues in Mississippi and beyond since the 1930's and Jack's playing is in that great tradition of Yank Rachell and Johnny Young. His love for the mandolin is certainly no surprise when you note Jack's affinity for Country music and further consider that string band music enjoyed regional popularity throughout the South and in Mississippi in particular during the acoustic pre-war blues era.

As a composer, Jack writes highly individual songs, often with an eye toward the social conscience. Jack's music meets life head on and he sings about the real qualities and events of the life he's lived and what he sees around him. His moral story-telling has a decidedly unique approach when composing songs with such modern topics as drug abuse, AIDS, etc., free from the trappings of the often mined and overly familiar traditional blues themes.
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