Willie Johnson (guitarist)

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Willie Johnson
Born(1923-03-04)March 4, 1923
Senatobia, Mississippi, U.S.
DiedFebruary 26, 1995(1995-02-26) (aged 71)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Electric blues [1] Memphis blues [1]
Occupation(s) Guitarist
Instruments Electric guitar
Years active1940s–1950s
Labels Sun
Associated acts Howlin' Wolf

Willie Johnson (March 4, 1923 – February 26, 1995) [2] was an American electric blues guitarist. He is best known as the principal guitarist in Howlin' Wolf's band from 1948–53. [3] His raucous, distorted guitar playing features on Howlin' Wolf's Memphis recordings of 1951–3, including the hit song "How Many More Years" (recorded May 1951). [4]

Electric blues refers to any type of blues music distinguished by the use of electric amplification for musical instruments. The guitar was the first instrument to be popularly amplified and used by early pioneers T-Bone Walker in the late 1930s and John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters in the 1940s. Their styles developed into West Coast blues, Detroit blues, and post-World War II Chicago blues, which differed from earlier, predominantly acoustic-style blues. By the early 1950s, Little Walter was a featured soloist on blues harmonica or blues harp using a small hand-held microphone fed into a guitar amplifier. Although it took a little longer, the electric bass guitar gradually replaced the stand-up bass by the early 1960s. Electric organs and especially keyboards later became widely used in electric blues.

Guitarist person who plays the guitar

A guitarist is a person who plays the guitar. Guitarists may play a variety of guitar family instruments such as classical guitars, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and bass guitars. Some guitarists accompany themselves on the guitar by singing or playing the harmonica.

Howlin Wolf American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player

Chester Arthur Burnett, known as Howlin' Wolf, was a Chicago blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, originally from Mississippi. With a booming voice and imposing physical presence, he is one of the best-known Chicago blues artists. The musician and critic Cub Koda noted, "no one could match Howlin' Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits." Producer Sam Phillips recalled, "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'" Several of his songs, including "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Killing Floor" and "Spoonful", have become blues and blues rock standards. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 54 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".


In 2017, Johnson was posthumously inducted in to the Blues Hall of Fame. [5]

Blues Hall of Fame award

The Blues Hall of Fame is a music museum located in Memphis, Tennessee. Initially, the "Blues Hall of Fame" was not a physical building, but a listing of people who have significantly contributed to blues music. Started in 1980 by the Blues Foundation, it honors those who have performed, recorded, or documented blues. The actual building for the hall opened to the public on May 8, 2015.

Life and career

Willie Lee Johnson was born in Senatobia, Mississippi. [2] As the guitarist in the first band led by Howlin' Wolf, [1] he appeared on most of Wolf's recordings between 1951 and 1953. He provided the slightly jazzy yet raucous guitar sound that was the signature of all of Wolf's Memphis recordings. Johnson also performed and recorded with other blues artists in the Memphis area, [1] including pianist Willie Love, Willie Nix, Junior Parker, Roscoe Gordon, Bobby "Blue" Bland and others.[ citation needed ]

Senatobia, Mississippi Place in Mississippi, United States

Senatobia is a city in and the county seat of Tate County, Mississippi, and is the 16th largest municipality in the Memphis Metropolitan Area. The population was 8,165 at the 2010 census.

Memphis blues

The Memphis blues is a style of blues music created from the 1910s to the 1930s by musicians in the Memphis area, like Frank Stokes, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis and Memphis Minnie. The style was popular in vaudeville and medicine shows and was associated with Beale Street, the main entertainment area in Memphis, W. C. Handy, the "Father of the Blues", published the song "The Memphis Blues". In lyrics, the phrase has been used to describe a depressed mood.

Willie Love Jr. was an American Delta blues pianist. He is best known for his association with and accompaniment of Sonny Boy Williamson II.

When Wolf moved to Chicago in around 1953, he could not convince Johnson to join him. [1] Johnson stayed on in Memphis for several years, playing on a number of sessions for Sun Records, including a 1955 collaboration with vocalist Sammy Lewis, "I Feel So Worried", released under the name Sammy Lewis with Willie Johnson. By the time Johnson relocated to Chicago, Wolf had already hired guitarist Hubert Sumlin as a permanent replacement. [1]

Sun Records American independent record label founded by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee in 1950

Sun Records is an American independent record label founded by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee in 1950. Sun was the first company to record Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.

Hubert Sumlin American Chicago blues and electric blues guitarist and singer

Hubert Charles Sumlin was a Chicago blues guitarist and singer, best known for his "wrenched, shattering bursts of notes, sudden cliff-hanger silences and daring rhythmic suspensions" as a member of Howlin' Wolf's band. He was ranked number 43 in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".

James Cotton later recalled that Wolf replaced Johnson because of his heavy drinking. [6]

James Cotton American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter

James Henry Cotton was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, who performed and recorded with many of the great blues artists of his time and with his own band. He played drums early in his career but is famous for his harmonica playing.

Alcohol abuse substance abuse that involves the recurring use of alcoholic beverages despite negative consequences

Alcohol abuse encompasses a spectrum of unhealthy alcohol drinking behaviors, ranging from binge drinking to alcohol dependence.

Johnson occasionally performed and recorded with Howlin' Wolf after settling in Chicago, and also played briefly in the band of Muddy Waters, as well as a number of other local Chicago blues musicians, including J. T. Brown, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He made his living mainly outside of music for the rest of his life, only occasionally sitting in with the bands of his old friends around Chicago. His final recordings were made for Earwig Music in Chicago in the early 1990s.[ citation needed ]

Muddy Waters American blues singer and guitarist

McKinley Morganfield, known professionally as Muddy Waters, was an American blues singer-songwriter and musician who is often cited as the "father of modern Chicago blues", and an important figure on the post-war blues scene.

J. T. Brown was an American tenor saxophonist of the Chicago blues era. He was variously billed as Saxman Brown, J.T. Brown and Bep Brown.

Earwig Music Company is an American blues and jazz independent record label, founded by Michael Frank in October 1978 in Chicago.


Willie Johnson died in Chicago on February 26, 1995. [7]


Willie Johnson the guitarist should not be confused with Willie Johnson (a member of the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet until joining the Jubilaires in 1948), or with Blind Willie Johnson, an earlier gospel artist.

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  2. 1 2 Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1994–95". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
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  5. "BLUES HALL OF FAME - ABOUT/Inductions - Blues Foundation". Blues.org. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  6. Will Romano (2005). Incurable Blues: The Troubles & Triumph of Blues Legend Hubert Sumlin. Backbeat Books. p. 25. ISBN   978-0879308339.
  7. "Bman's Blues Report: Gettin Old and Grey – Howlin' Wolf w/ Willie Johnson". Bmansbluesreport.com. February 26, 2012. Retrieved May 23, 2017.