Peerie Willie Johnson

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"Peerie" Willie Johnson (William Henry Johnson) (born Yell, Shetland 10 December 1920; died Lerwick, Shetland 22 May 2007) was a Scottish folk guitarist and bassist. He was respected as an influential and innovative musician in the Shetland folk [1] - Since 2005 there has been a "Peerie" Willie Guitar Festival"[2] on the islands.

"Peerie" is a Shetland dialect word, roughly meaning "small" or "little".

Early life and career[edit]

He was associated with the stylistically opposite fiddle player Dr Tom Anderson, and was an influence on Aly Bain (fiddle) and Martin Taylor (guitar).

Johnson's childhood was plagued by ill health which interrupted his schooling; he left school without qualifications. However, he took up music after seeing a photograph of a ukelele-playing cowboy. Starting on the instrument, he soon switched to the guitar, despite the fiddle's status as lead instrument in Shetland's folk music.

A meeting with Anderson in 1936 got him a job with the local Islesburgh Dance Band, then the biggest band on Shetland. Hearing Eddie Lang and Django Reinhardt on the radio, he adapted their guitar style to Shetland's music, creating a sound that sounded "like a bass and a guitar playing together" according to fellow musician and writer Archie Fisher. In his last years Fisher states that at one festival Johnson was surrounded by guitarists from around the world, listening to him play. "They were all sitting there like disciples," such was the respect that Johnson held in the folk music world.


Johnson made recordings of his music (although never as a soloist), which can be found on anthologies such as Shetland Folk Fiddling, and on records and DVDs by Aly Bain, who also featured him on his Aly Bain and Friends television programme.


  1. ^ Hunt, K. "'Peerie' Willie Johnson" (The Guardian, 29 June 2007, P.44)
  2. ^

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