Here, we have five licks in the style of a true pioneer of the guitar and a bastion of blues – the unsung genius Lonnie Johnson. One of those rude awakenings happened to me last year. I thought I had the blues chronology sorted in my head (I won’t spell it out here due to space, but you could guess – Robert Johnson, T-Bone, BB etc).
I’d also heard of Lonnie Johnson years and years ago but chose to ignore him as his name reminded me of Lonnie Donegan and, in my ignorance, I thought he’d sound the same! The irony, I discovered later, was that Donegan worked with Johnson when he toured the UK in the 1950s and was so amazed that he changed his name from Anthony to Lonnie there and then.
However, guitarist Denny Ilett gave me a quick education, pointed me in the direction of YouTube and opened my eyes and ears in the process. Check out Uncle Ned Don’t Use Your Head and you may hear where a certain Belgian gypsy got a lot of his ideas. Then check out later footage: he was a great man, a superb player and a huge star from the late 1920s until the 1960s.
This is the first of a two-parter on Lonnie, looking at his acoustic period – before electrics were invented! His early main guitar was a Martin slot-headed 000 model with a 12-fret neck. Stay tuned for part two when we get a little bit hotter in our choice of licks but let’s ease in with a medium jump blues in C.
Lonnie was using these licks in 1927, but you can hear them every day in the playing of a vast array of guitarists (whether they know it or not).
Click onwards for the tab, examples and backing track.