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Author Topic: Larry Johnson  (Read 9624 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Larry Johnson
« on: October 24, 2005, 12:50:09 PM »
I've been asked to look out anything that I might have on Larry Johnson's visit to Britain with Nick Perls in November 1970 to promote the Blues Goose LP. One such is what follows (from the Melody Maker, November 28th 1970). The late Mr Perls certainly wasn't backward about coming forward and speaking his mind!

Taking Blues To Broadway
Andrew Means

THE TENDENCY to think of country blues as a relic of the past comes rapidly to an end as one catches guitar strains from Larry Johnson.
Currently on tour in this country, the young Georgian is out to prove that country blues has merely been suffering from an insufficient intake of new talent. His competent vocal style and string twisting fingers add new life to the medium, Together with his manager Nick Perls, of Yazoo Records he arrived in England recently and threatens to return to the States with a sizeable reputation behind him.
?I?m serious about my music and I won?t even attempt to sing a song unless I?m pretty sure about it,? said Larry. ?This accounts for the amount of chords I use, because sometimes my singing? a little bit poor. I have to have all that in mind when I start to approach a song. I?m very ambitious. I want to be the man to take blues to Broadway.?
In re-interpreting the old country blues and winning a new American audience for this kind of music, Larry has set himself quite a task.
 ?You just don?t get an opportunity to play,? he told me. ?There really aren?t many acoustic clubs that are doing well outside the big rock clubs. They just don?t know what blues is about.
?It?s hard right now to get what I?m doing over to a black audience. I play mostly to white college kids and up to high school. I haven?t played to a black audience yet, apart from friends. But that?s only because I haven?t had the opportunity. I expect to do so in the future.?
What was the reaction of the American black youth to his style of music?
?There was this thing about reacting against the Uncle Tom thing,? replied Nick Perls. ?They wanted to find a black culture. But sooner or later they?re going to realise that their biggest cultural tradition is their music. I think that kind of attitude will change very quickly. I?m looking for it to change in five years at the most.
? One reason why there hasn?t been more interest in country blues over here [Britain] is that there probably hasn?t been all that many people playing it worth telling about,? remarked Nick. ?The people who were into it in the twenties and thirties are more like historic documents now.?? ?Blues is a continuum,? he explained, ?Charley Patton fulfilled the same thing in the twenties as James Brown does today. He plays 70?s blues. The current dance music is the current blues,
 ?The thing about it is that in the twenties and thirties nobody listened to the lyrics? unless they were dirty,? continued Nick, ?Basically a lot of the lyrics on records were extremely dull, They weren?t? meant to be listened to That wasn?t what the music was? all about. It isn?t any different from any other form of, music in that way. It?s just entertainment,?
 ?It fulfilled the same kind of purpose as pop music today ? entertainment,? repeated Nick, ?These cats were successful. It was the dopes who were out in the cotton fields. It was the preachers and the musicians who had it all worked out. Actually all this stuff about the blues being depressed is a white publicity trick.
? ??Nobody would listen unless they sang dirty lyrics. People back there didn?t regard music as being anything religious, A lot of people listened because they had no radio. Most of these musicians never did any work at all Why should they??
Nick felt that the blues had been distorted to some extent by the academic approach of. some writers like Sam Charters and Paul Oliver. ?I think really their ideas about the music relate more to their personalities than to the music?

Offline Rivers

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2005, 01:09:21 PM »
Incredibly ironic piece. Particularly these two gems, which are linked and have proven to be wrong by just about 180 degrees:

>> Nick felt that the blues had been distorted to some extent by the academic approach of. some writers like Sam Charters and Paul Oliver. ?I think really their ideas about the music relate more to their personalities than to the music?

and...

>> ?They wanted to find a black culture. But sooner or later they?re going to realise that their biggest cultural tradition is their music. I think that kind of attitude will change very quickly. I?m looking for it to change in five years at the most.

I think it's safe to say if it wasn't for the work of the aforementioned writers things would be even worse than they are. I'm looking for it to change though, in about five years...

Offline book

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2005, 01:13:18 PM »
Hey Guys, Roy Book Binder here.....I was in London with Nick and Larry back in Nov. 1970.
Did some gigs with Larry  and was at some recording sessions with Nick.  We had quite a time.  Larry and I  stayed at Joann Kelly's flat. 
  any questions about that UK scene back then, feel free to ask.......Roy BB
Roy BB

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Larry Johnson/Nick Perls
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2005, 05:05:14 PM »
Hi Roy,

I'd be curious to hear some of your memories of Nick Perls. Many of us who've been buying Yazoo records and CDs for years, and hunting down hard to find Blue Goose recordings, don't know much about the man. But he was reissuing all of our favorite old country blues and promoted new interpreters of country blues through Blue Goose - Larry Johnson, Woody Mann, Rory Block, Roger Hubbard (I was just enjoying his Blue Goose record the other day), John Miller, Jo Ann Kelly, and yourself. Not to mention records from Shirley Griffith, Yank Rachell, Sam Chatmon. Bill Williams....  Not to mention his involvement in the Blues Mafia... ;)

I caught Larry Johnson in that Lightnin' In a Bottle film recently. One of the more refreshing moments in the film. He can sure play.

Andrew

Offline book

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2005, 09:44:29 AM »
I arrived in London back in October of 1970.  After meeting Jo Ann Kelly in New York at Nick Perls home that Summer, I took her up on her invite.    She told me to,"ring her up if I was ever in London".   With no warning, I did so from Heathrow airport!  Times were so different back then!  Her manager Chris infomed me that they were just leaving for the continent on tour with Dave Kelly and his wife...I was instructed to get to Jo's flat as quickly as I could.  There was no room for me in the car, so upon arrival, Jo and Chris handed me the key to the flat and instructed me of how to put a shilling in one box for heat and another box for hot water!   Chris handed me the Melody Maker and Sounds Magazine and told me to visit the clubs he circled and for me to introduce myself and to do as many 'guest spots' as I could.  And off they went.....
   Having recorded on a Blue Goose anthology, I had contacted 77 Records on the possibility of recording for them while I was in the UK.  Mr. Dobbel was interested and I met with him the next day.  He introduced me to Ron Watts of the National Blues Federation that day and I was booked to open for Homesick James at the 100 Club a few days later for 15 pounds!  On my bus ride back to 'the flat' I read a poster "Be a London City bus driver, and earn up to 15 pounds a week!  I was besides myself!  Three days in London and I was doing as well as a bus driver!!
  By the time Jo and Chris returned, I had a few nice reviews and was being booked by the N.B.F..
The next month, Larry Johnson arrived.  Fast & Funky had been recently released and there was quite a 'buzz' about Larry in the UK.  I picked him up at the airport, he was really surprised to see me.
He was not very optimistic, as I assured him he was going to take London by storm.  And that he did at the 100 club on Oxford Street the next evening.  For his encore, Larry called me up to the stage and we did a very cool version of Willie Brown's Mississippi Blues.  The fans went wild, many saying that they never heard anyone sing it before!  They had only heard it as an instrumental...
   I believe Ron Brown of Jazz Journal wrote the review which was fantastic and that opened up doors for me up and down the country.  Larry went on to do quite a few gigs.  I was on the bill at some and we had quite a time...
  Nick Perls arrived sometime later that month.  Setting up his 'digs' at some snazzy hotel.  Larry and I shared Jo Ann's spare room.  It was a great Winter for me....After Larry left, Nick began recording British acts for Blue Goose.   Grahm Hines, John Lewis and my favorite, Roger Hubbard.  I was at Roger's session, in Jo Ann's living room.  Nick at a portable Uerr tape recorder I believe.  Roger recorded a good part of that album with my Martin Custom Made OM28.  6 of them were made for Matt Umanov's Guitar shop in NYC in 1968.  Before there was a custom shop!  These were very cool guitars.  All my reviews mentioned the guitar which struck me as being pretty funny at the time.
  I had a gig that night, so Roger finished the album with his Levin guitar, which was a fine sounding instrument.  It would be 30 years until I crossed pathes with Roger Hubbard again.  Back in 2003     I believe, we were both hired for the BLUE GOOSE BLUES FESTIVAL at Stamford along with John Miller, Graham Hines, Woody Mann and a few others.  It was a shame that Larry Johnson wasn't there too.  I'm sure they tried to get him...
   Roger still had "the magic" as we used to say.  His album from the early 70's is still one of the best.
Today, there are surely more pickers who can play the notes, but 'the magic' rarely makes an appearance....It was so cool to talk with and hear Roger again.  He is truly one of the best.
   I enjoyed this look back, we sure had a time in Merry England back in the old days.  So sad that Jo Ann is gone, she sure helped get my career off the ground back in the Winter of 1970-71.   Last I heard from her, She apologized for not being much of a letter writer and thanked me for all mine....I was finally in a position to help her set up a propper tour in the U.S. and we were discussing it before she passed away........Her last letter is in my scrapbook where I sometimes go to take a look back to  where I've been and with who I knew...."The Book"
Roy BB

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2005, 10:21:05 AM »
Roy:

Great reminisences, thanks. Your memory is amazing.

Those must have been fun days, right at the beginning. I'll have to pull out my copy of "Fast and Funky" tonight (on vinyl) and give it a listen.

Thanks again.

Alex

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2005, 10:36:08 AM »
? ?I believe Ron Brown of Jazz Journal wrote the review which was fantastic and that opened up doors for me up and down the country.? Larry went on to do quite a few gigs.? I was on the bill at some and we had quite a time...
This is the only review I can find in Jazz Journal (January 1971, p. 24). Trust I've corrected all the scanning anomalies!

THE GREAT LARRY JOHNSON
Readers of the November Record Reviews will remember how I raved about Larry Johnson's -new album on Blue Goose 2001; as might be expected with any artist who's any good at all, his live performances, several of which I was fortunate enough to catch, add dimensions missing even from a recording as superlative as his essential LP.
For one thing it's fascinating to watch him play the guitar, his restless fingers forever forming chords, with delicate treble patterns slotted between them, and all the time keeping the beat moving with propulsive and compelling bass notes.
As if this wasn't enough, he's equally great (and I'm not using the word 'great' lightly) as a singer. Any one song can display a complex of emotions?during his first 100 Club session, he was able, after singing a long sad blues about unrequited love, to grin and, having exorcised the pain through music, could bid the bird who'd done him wrong: 'Like Fats Waller says step out the window and turn left! ' And another night, when he had to put up with an inadequate instrument which had to be retuned after almost every number, his discomfort resulted in some very moving vocals, as he sang the blues to lose them. He did How Long Blues, a hackneyed number if ever there was one, and it was marvellous; I've heard many performers sing the couplet

When I first met you, had my diamonds on,
But since I've been knowing you baby, they're all in pawn,

but it's never packed such a wallop before. Of course all I've said about exorcism and singing to lose the blues might be dead wrong, inaccurate conjecture boring to the reader and offensive to the performer, but this is the way it hit me, and if Larry's blues weren't spontaneous expressions of emotion, then they were stunning examples of the art that conceals art.
On that first100 Club night, Larry discarded his guitar after two numbers and borrowed a Martin from his friend Roy Bookbinder, who'd done a set a few minutes previously and created a mood of euphoric delight. Bookbinder has flowing hair, a heavy moustache and a cowboy hat, and would resemble Wild Bill Hickok if it wasn't for the fact that he wears glasses. He played gentle melodic guitar in the Davis/Blake ragtime blues tradition, but his singing was really something else, as he performed a selection of mainly side-splitting blues in a drawling voice which broke hilariously (whether accidentally or deliberately I know not) part-way through every chorus. On this showing he's certainly the best white bluesman I've ever heard, and if he hasn't been recorded yet, somebody ought to do it, and bloody quickly. Ron Brown

Offline book

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2005, 11:35:31 AM »
I forgot how good the review was......we really knocked them out......Does Ron Brown still write about blues?  How do we contact him????    Roy
Roy BB

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2005, 01:34:28 PM »
This thread had brought  back a lot of memories for me. Larry Johnson, in the early seventies, was an absolute revelation. Not only his abilities as a guitarist, but the breadth of his material, were remarkable. His version of Keep It Clean would always bring the house down. In 1970 Larry was the first younger generation revivalist singer I'd seen who wasn't white, and one of the few then active in the UK who wasn't British. The next stream of memories Roy brings back for me are about Jo-Ann. I had regular contact with her from the early seventies till the time of her untimely death. She always stayed with us when on tour in Scotland and I often stayed with her and Pete and Ellie in Mitcham. She had a fund of stories about the early days of the British blues scene in South London, where aficionados, starved of access to their favourite music, would hang out in a record shop and trade verses and licks. Bob Hall, Prager and Rye, Dave Kelly of course, and countless other proponents of the music would hang out, share their latest enthusiasms,  trade stories, songs and guitars. When recently the series of Martin Scorsese films came out it struck me that were three missing films (which I hope one day will be made)! The first would be on the African American source singers and revivalists who've been active on the acoustic music scene since the 1960's. The second would deal with the white American acoustic musicians (contributors to this site amongst them) who kept the flame alive by  studying and performing the music at home and abroad. And the third would be about the legions of British and European acoustic musicians who kept alive a vibrant scene in the Ballads and Blues clubs of the fifties, in the folk clubs of the sixties, seventies and eighties, and who included all those good folk from the record shop in South London, through to people like Steve Philips in Leeds, Ray Stubbs and the Hokum Hotshots in Newcastle, John Pearson and the aforementioned Roger Hubbard  in the South and East, Mike Cooper, Wizz Jones, Al Jones in the South and West. It's a fine addition to this site to have the first-hand recollections of Roy, whose visits to Scotland are all too rare these days. Thanks for reviving these memories, and haste ye back!

Offline Stuart

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2005, 01:46:27 PM »
Roy:

Thanks for taking the time to write about great times and great music. It was great then and it is great now. My kids (now twenty-one and nineteen) grew up listening to this stuff and often commented great it is--although there were awkward moments, i.e. my daughter listening to Roger Hubbard's version of "Cigarette Blues" for the first time--but awkward moments are part of being a parent, and it led to them being turned on to his work with Buick 6, especially "Cypress Grove," not to mention your recordings, those of JohnM, and a few other visitors to this site (You know who you are!)

For those interested, Larry Johnson's "Fast & Funky" is available on CD through ?the Baltimore Blues Society. Here's the link:

http://www.mojoworkin.com/

Click on "Merchandise"--its halfway down the page.

I may have mentioned this source before, but just in case...

Thanks again, and keep up the good work, Book!

Stu

Offline Johnm

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2005, 02:52:53 PM »
Hi all,
It is fun to hear the reminiscences on this thread.  It can be diffficult to grasp how long ago the times being discussed were--it is now equally as long a time back to 1970 when the Larry Johnson tour under discussion took place as it was between John Hurt's 1928 recordings and his rediscovery in 1963.  It's enough to make you feel old, that's for sure!
I don't think Nick Perls has ever gotten the recognition he deserved for helping to bring country blues to people's attention and for providing recording opportunities for many of the older musicians who still played in the '60s and '70s, as well as young musicians who played the music.  Nick had a great deal of musical acumen, though I don't know if he would have given himself credit for it, and was the first person operating a country blues re-issue label to attach any value to several players--Bo Carter is one who springs to mind immediately.  Prior to Nick, I don't think anybody took Bo seriously as a musician, probably because of the "single entendre" nature of many of Bo's lyrics, and a feeling that such lyrics didn't rate highly as "poetry of the blues".  Nick didn't care about any of that, his attitude was, "Listen to the guy, he was a hell of a player!", and he was right.
Nick's re-issue series on Yazoo always put out well-conceived anthologies or solo features.  He wanted to get the music out there, and was very encouraging to young people playing the music, myself included.  I think a lot of his ideas about the music, including ones expressed in the first post on this thread were right on, but he enjoyed shocking people,so he would generally couch his ideas, especially those expressed in public, in a way that was calculated, perhaps, to cause maximum offense.  He was a generous friend and made a point of making music available to you that he thought you might enjoy or learn from.
All best,
Johnm

Offline book

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Nick Perls
« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2005, 05:37:27 PM »
John, So true about Nick.  His record party's were the best....we would pick titles from Dixon and Goodrich, he would spin the discs, and we would all discuss the merits of the tune and the player....He turned us on  to lots of Blues back when we thought we were experts and found out we were only enrhusiasts! 
  When the first 5 Belzona lps were issued,  we all heard music by players we never heard of....and when he gave us a chance to record and really become part of the Blues World it was like a dream....Nick even had the BLUE GOOSE Agency and tried to get us on the road spreading the word....It was really somthing.....
  To bad he didn't live to see where it all ended up.  I think that he would be quite pleased to see how many have become involved.  The guitar workshops would have really surprised him.  I suppose there would have been  a  BLUE GOOSE SCHOOL of COUNTRY BLUES had he not passed away.
It's probably been over twenty years now.....
   Oh well, times are good now, enjoy and keep pickin,  By Now, Roy BB
Roy BB

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2005, 08:41:49 PM »
Yes:

If you are his "children" then he is happy.

And so are we, the benificaries of your music.

Feel young, kick some more ass.

Alex
« Last Edit: November 02, 2005, 12:29:03 PM by Pyrochlore »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #13 on: November 02, 2005, 11:48:55 AM »
Here are the opening two paragraphs from Simon Napier?s notes to Presenting The Country Blues (Blue Horizon 7-63851, 1969). In the intervening three and a half decades has anyone else licensed and issued these Bobby Robinson recordings?

"The first time I heard the beautiful singing and easy-picking guitar of Larry Johnson I was amazed that the old style of country blues should suddenly turn up, in 1966, on a tiny obscure label ? Blue Soul, and what?s more, bang in the middle of the United States? largest city ? New York?for many years considered sterile for blues activity by both resident and visiting collectors. The songs I heard were So Sweet and Catfish Blues and the music on that rare single release is now available here alongside a dozen which have never been issued previously!

When I was in New York in the summer of 1969 the first artist I saw on stage was?of course?Larry Johnson. He opened a concert at The Electric Circus, on the surface the least likely surrounding for country blues with its contemporary decoration flashy, fluorescent illumination and rock ?n? roll image. He appeared in front of the large, semi-circular stage a frail, slight figure hunched over his guitar. His announcements were barely audible, his demeanour distinctly shy. But when he sang explanation was superfluous and his gentle confiding vocal style and glorious fast guitar playing brought the sendentary [sic] audience to its feet to clamour for more?and more?and more!

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Larry Johnson
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2005, 09:25:03 AM »
I was tipped off about this thread by my friend, Rick Sellens (aka Rick218 on this forum) as it mentioned our mutual friend and great blues singer/player, Roger Hubbard.

I lived in London during the early 70s, having moved from my native Yorkshire, where I had first seen the likes of Steve Phillips and Jo Ann Kelly play live.  Every Sunday afternoon there was blues at Studio 51, which was known by all and sundry as "Colyer's", because it was apparently owned by the jazz musician, Ken Colyer.  When I first discovered it, the resident band was Brett Marvin & the Thunderbolts, who were later replaced by the Brunning-Hall Band.  All the London bluesers played there - often just turning up and joining in.  They included Sam Mitchell, Jo and Dave Kelly, Simon Prager & Steve Rye.  Visiting Americans also appeared and that was the first time I saw Roy Book Binder who just blew me away with his superb ragtime picking, relaxed vocals and all-round brilliant performance.  The most exciting urban bluesman I saw there was J.B. Hutto.  There was no alcohol, just cups of tea (how British) and home-made fruit pie served by two ladies called "Pat" and "Vi".

After Colyer's, we all trooped around the corner to "Bunjis" folk club where Sam Mitchell shared a residency with a guitarist called Dave Ellis.  Another folk club often featuring blues players was "Les Cousins".  At the time we didn't realise it was meant to be a French name and assumed it belonged to some bloke called Leslie Cousins.  I saw "floor spots" from both John Martyn and Ralph McTell there.  Jo Ann often played there and I loved sitting in the front row, only to be virtually knocked off my chair by "that voice" - and totally acoustic, there were no PA systems then.  Later on, Jo became a good friend, often visiting me and my family in the little Sussex town of Rye where I had moved.  In fact she chose to play her first gig here after the operation to remove the brain tumour, accompanied by her partner, Pete Emery on guitar and local hero Roger Hubbard on slide National.  I still have a cassette of that gig.

Roger still plays regularly solo and occasionally in the odd duo or with his stunning band, Buick 6.  We are good mates and often meet for lunch.  You can listen to what he sounds like now at www.rogerhubbard.co.uk.

I didn't see Larry at that time, but booked him to play locally in the 1980s.  He no longer used the outstanding fingerpicking he had used on the excellent "Fast & Funky", but still played powerfully - so powerfully he simultaneously broke the bottom E and A strings of his guitar!!  Roger Hubbard turned up - without a guitar as usual, because he is very modest and doesn't like to impose on people.  Larry considered Roger one of the few white players who could really cut it and when he discovered Roger had omitted to bring a guitar he said "Shame on you! Shame on you!", as he would clearly have lilked to jam with him.

I caught up with the Book again a couple of years ago in the small Kent town of Hawkhurst and what a superb gig he played.

Hope I haven't sent you readers to sleep with this length diatribe!

Parlor Picker aka Michael Prince
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

 


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