The Original Guitar Hero and the Power of Music
Listen to the Dean Alger interview on the Big Road Blues Show: Big
Road Blues Show (Rochester, NY); this show was called, New Orleans, They
Call It the Land of Dreams — The Legendary Lonnie Johnson.
Lonnie Johnson (1894–1970) was a virtuoso guitarist who influenced
generations of musicians from Django Reinhardt to Eric Clapton to Bill
Wyman and especially B. B. King. Born in New Orleans, he began playing
violin and guitar in his father’s band at an early age. When most of his
family was wiped out by the 1918 flu epidemic, he and his surviving
brother moved to St. Louis, where he won a blues contest that included a
recording contract. His career was launched.
Johnson can be heard on many Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong records,
including the latter’s famous “Savoy Blues” with the Hot Five. He is
perhaps best known for his 12-string guitar solos and his
ground-breaking recordings with the white guitarist Eddie Lang in the
late 1920s. After World War II he began playing rhythm and blues and
continued to record and tour until his death.
This is the first full-length work on Johnson. Dean Alger answers many
biographical mysteries, including how many members of Johnson’s large
family were left after the epidemic. He also places Johnson and his
musical contemporaries in the context of American race relations and
argues for the importance of music in the fight for civil rights.
Finally, Alger analyzes Johnson’s major recordings in terms of technique
and style. Distribution of an accompanying music CD will be coordinated
with the release of this book.
B.B. King and author Dean Alger, taken at the end of their interview for
the book (in the back of his tour bus). Lonnie Johnson was BB’s greatest
“When you mention guitar, the first thing I think of is Lonnie Johnson.”
—B. B. King
“This book is great! With superb reviews of Lonnie Johnson’s music and
life, and perspectives on the development of artistry on the guitar and
music and Civil Rights, this is a profoundly meaningful book.
Johnson’s importance for 20th-century music is monumental.” —Lawrence
Cohn, editor of Nothing but the Blues: The Music and the