FEATURED ARTIST / S
Lonnie Johnson, vocal, guitar.
Includes duets with:
Spencer Williams, vocal.
Clara Smith (as “Violet Green”), vocal.
With contributions by: James P. Johnson, piano; Clarence Williams, washboard, Alex Hill, piano.
Genres: Blues, Blues Guitar, Blues Duets, Blues Piano.
Informative booklet notes by Chris Smith.
After the desperation of “Headed For Southland” (see DOCD-5067), the two part I Got The Best Jelly Roll In Town formed a light-hearted interlude in Lonnie Johnson’s 23rd January 1930 session. Featuring some impressive guitar, even by Johnson’s high standards, it’s the first tryout of a song which, as “Jelly Roll Baker”, he was to record again more than once. The singing on this version is remarkable, given the very slow tempo. For the last two titles of the session, Lonnie switched to piano, which he hadn’t played on disc since 1926; by 1930, he had worked out a favourite accompaniment, featuring a staccato, four-to-the-bar chordal bass part, over which are laid darting right hand figures that are clearly inspired by his guitar playing.
As 1930 continued, and the Depression worsened, Lonnie Johnson was still in demand at Okeh; he and Spencer Williams made their last hokum duets in February and May, with James P. Johnson again superb on piano, and Lonnie seeming to respond to his challenge. Hokum apart, Lonnie was still cutting solo blues; I Can’t Stand These Blues, he proclaimed, summing up the approach to lyrics that he explained to Val Wilmer in 1963: “The heartaches and the things that have happened to me in my life - that’s what makes a good blues singer.” Deep Sea Blues is a disguised version of “Empty Bed Blues”, perhaps acquired when touring with Bessie Smith in 1929. On Long Black Train and I Have To Do My Time, the accompanist is listed as “unknown” by “Blues & Gospel Records”, but there seems no reason to doubt that it’s Johnson on both piano and guitar. No More Troubles Now surely represents an attempt to sustain interest in his emotional odyssey as heard on disc, by setting up a contrast with the gloomy songs for which he was known.
In October, Johnson was paired with Clara Smith, Columbia’s “Queen of the Moaners”, for four duets on which they sparred with evident enthusiasm, their rich voices admirably suited to one another. The oddly titled Got The Blues For Murder Only can’t have done much for his sales in Mexico, with its scurrilous, if undeniably witty, view of life there. Southland is All Right With Me startles the present day listener with its defence of a region whose racist system many blacks had left with relief.