Mr. Johnson's Blues

Album: Vol 1 1925-1926 (1925)
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Songfacts®:

  • Lonnie Johnson is a key figure in blues history. Like Jelly Roll Morton, he developed the blues sound in New Orleans in the 1910s and 1920s. But Morton did his work on piano; Johnson used a guitar.

    Starting around 1917, Johnson performed throughout America. In 1924 he entered a contest in St. Louis sponsored by OKeh records. When he won, he earned a deal with the label, and in 1925 recorded his most popular song, "Mr. Johnson's Blues." The lyric is simple, just three lines:

    I want all you people to listen to my song
    I want all you people to listen to my song
    Remember me after the days I'm gone


    The title is more significant: Black men in America weren't addressed as "Mister" at the time, so Johnson was commanding respect.
  • Electric guitar hadn't been invented yet, so Johnson played acoustic guitar on this song, which wasn't easy to record in 1925 because any other instruments would often overwhelm it. Johnson sat up front and was accompanied by a piano (John Arnald of the Jazz-O-Maniacs) that was set back so the focus would be on Johnson. The result was a surprisingly good recording that was distributed around the country. Johnson made many more recordings for OKeh over the next few years, and up until the Great Depression, they sold very well. They also were a huge influence on other musicians, particularly in the Mississippi Delta, that started playing the blues in his style.
  • Johnson released a follow-up called "Mr. Johnson's Blues No. 2" in 1929, adding more lyrics to tell a story. In that one, we find out he's heartbroken over losing the woman he loves.
  • According to The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Culture by Chris Thomas King, this was the first blues recording by a Black male singer. There were some recordings by Black women and also by white men who appropriated the style, sometimes rather offensively (one recording was even called "Ni--er Blues").

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