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About Willie Johnson
Different than Blind Willie Johnson in many ways besides being able to see, this is a wonderful electric guitarist whose loyalty to Memphis perhaps cost him something in the way of fame. Willie Johnson was the guitarist in the very first band led by Howlin' Wolf, a giant of Chicago blues whose music has been an influence on every aspect of rock & roll, from the most primal to the most avant-garde. Even mentioning the city of Chicago demonstrates the shift in perception that goes along with lumping various artists together in various city "scenes." Howlin' Wolf's appealingly sizzling combo sound was already well developed when he relocated from Memphis to Chicago in the '50s. Willie Johnson was an important part of that sound, considered to be the ace up Wolf's sleeve, playing in an unpredictable style that encompassed much of blues history, past and future.
The only thing was, when Wolf moved to Chicago, he could not convince Johnson to go with him. His replacement would be Hubert Sumlin, another brilliant electric guitarist who would have a huge influence on players such as Eric Clapton. Sumlin tends to be better known than Johnson; he's a great player, and it is not an attempt to take away from that to mention the obvious fact that he was also stepping into a pair of shoes that had already been worn-in when he joined Wolf's band. Meanwhile, Johnson stayed on in Memphis, where the schizophrenic nature of the recording industry provided much less opportunity for him than might have been available had he followed the trail of the Wolf. Blues fans are in Fat City regardless, able to sample the playing of these masters and others in the Wolf pack of sidemen on literally endless reissues, compilations, and special sets. Johnson's recordings on his own, such as the stressful "Feel So Worried," also turn up on compilations devoted to the Memphis scene. ~ Eugene Chadbourne