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Big Jack Johnson



Big Jack Johnson (July 30, 1940 – March 14, 2011) was an American electric blues musician, one of the «present-day exponents of an edgier, electrified version of the raw, uncut Delta blues sound».

He was also was one of a very small number of blues musicians to play mandolin, winning a WC Handy Award in 2003 for best acoustic blues album.

A father of 13 children, Johnson got his nickname «The Oil Man» from the day-to-day job he took to put food on the table, driving an oil truck for Shell Oil. He himself was one of 18 children, born in Lambert in 1940. His father Ellis Johnson was a sharecropper, and his family picked cotton, but Jack`s father was also a professional musician, leading a band at «local functions» and playing fiddle and mandolin in country and blues. Big Jack got his start in music playing with him, and later in his teens shifted to the electric guitar, attracted to the «more urban sound» of BB King.

His earliest professional playing, away from his father`s act, included work with Earnest Roy, Sr., C. V. Veal & the Shufflers, and Johnny Dugan & the Esquires.

In 1962, Johnson joined with Sam Carr and Frank Frost to form The Jelly Roll Kings and The Nighthawks, playing bass and appearing on the albums Hey Boss Man (1962) and My Back Scratcher (1966). Johnson`s first recordings as a vocalist appeared on the 1979 album Rockin` the Juke Joint Down, on Earwig Music. With Frost as the bandleader, they performed and recorded together for 15 years.

His first solo album, The Oil Man, came out in 1987 on Earwig records. He recorded both solo and as a member of the blues groups the Jelly Roll Kings and Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers (with poet/musician Dick Lourie). Johnson`s album for Earwig, The Oil Man (1987), includes «Catfish Blues».

He performed and wrote «Jack`s Blues» and performed «Catfish Medley» with Samuel L. Jackson on the Black Snake Moan film soundtrack. Daddy, When Is Mama Comin Home? (1990) presents social concerns.

More recently, Big Jack Johnson played and recorded with his band The Cornlickers, with Dale Wise on drums, Dave Groninger on guitar, Tony Ryder on bass, and Bobby Gentilo on guitar. Together they recorded the CDs «Katrina» (2009) and «Big Jack`s Way» (2012).

Johnson died from an undisclosed illness on March 14, 2011. According to family members, he had struggled with health issues in his final years, worsening to the point that there were erroneous reports of his death in the days leading up to it.