Pete Johnson, ca. August 1946
March 25, 1904|
Kansas City, Missouri, United States
|Died||March 23, 1967
Buffalo, New York, United States
|Genres||Boogie-woogie, jazz, blues, stride|
|Associated acts||Big Joe Turner|
Journalist Tony Russell stated in his book The Blues - From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, that "Johnson shared with the other members of the 'Boogie Woogie Trio' the technical virtuosity and melodic fertility that can make this the most exciting of all piano music styles, but he was more comfortable than Meade Lux Lewis in a band setting; and as an accompanist, unlike Lewis or Albert Ammons, he could sparkle but not outshine his singing partner". Fellow journalist, Scott Yanow (Allmusic) added "Johnson was one of the three great boogie-woogie pianists (along with Lewis and Ammons) whose sudden prominence in the late 1930s helped make the style very popular".
He began his musical career in 1922 as a drummer in Kansas City. From 1926 to 1938 he worked as a pianist, often accompanying Big Joe Turner. Record producer John Hammond discovered him in 1936 and got him to play at the Famous Door in New York. In 1938 Johnson and Turner appeared in the From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. This concert started a boogie-woogie craze, and Turner and two other performers at the concert, Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons, worked together afterwards at Café Society for a long time; they also toured and recorded together. In 1941 Lewis, Ammons and Johnson were featured in the movie short Boogie-Woogie Dream.
The song, "Roll 'Em Pete" (composed by Johnson and Turner), featuring Turner on vocals and Johnson on piano, was one of the first rock and roll records. Another self-referential title was their "Johnson and Turner Blues". In 1949, he also wrote and recorded "Rocket 88 Boogie", a two-sided instrumental, which influenced the 1951 Ike Turner hit, "Rocket 88".
In the late 1940s, Johnson recorded an early concept album, House Rent Party, in which he starts out playing alone, supposedly in a new empty house, and is joined there by J. C. Higgenbotham, J. C. Heard, and other Kansas City players. Each has a solo single backed by Johnson, and then the whole group plays a jam session together. On this album Johnson shows his considerable command of stride piano and his ability to work with a group.
In 1950 he moved to Buffalo, but despite problems with his health, he continued to tour and record, notably with Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, and on a 1958 Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Europe, despite losing part of a finger some years earlier while changing a tire.
A stroke in 1958 left him partly paralyzed. His last years were troubled by illness and poverty. Johnson made one final appearance at Hammond's January 1967 "Spirituals to Swing" concert, playing the right hand on a version of "Roll 'Em Pete", two months before his death.
- "1280 Stomp"
- "627 Stomp"
- "Basement Boogie"
- "Buss Robinson Blues"
- "Cherry Red"
- "Death Ray Boogie"
- "Goin' Away Blues"
- "Holler Stomp"
- "Just for You"
- "Lone Star Blues"
- "Pete's Blues"
- "Pete's Lonsome Blues"
- "Roll 'Em Pete"
- 1941 - 8 to the Bar, with Albert Ammons, RCA Victor
- 1946 - Pete's Blues, Savoy
- 1970 - Boogie Woogie Mood (1940-1944), MCA
- 1974 - Master of Blues and Boogie Woogie, Oldie Blues
- 1975 - Master of Blues and Boogie Woogie, Vol. 2, Oldie Blues
- 1982 - Master of Blues and Boogie Woogie, Vol. 3, Oldie Blues
- 1992 - King of Boogie, Milan
- 1993 - Central Avenue Boogie, Delmark
- 1996 - The Chronological Pete Johnson 1938-1939, Classics
- 1996 - The Chronological Pete Johnson 1939-1941, Classics
- 1997 - The Chronological Pete Johnson 1944-1946, Classics
- 1998 - Blues & Boogie Woogie Master 1938/1946, EPM Musique
- 1999 - Roll 'Em Pete, Pearl
- 1999 - St. Louis Parties of July 20 & August 1, 1954, Document
- 2000 - The Chronological Pete Johnson 1947-1949, Classics
- 2001 - Atomic Boogie: The National Recordings 1945-1947, Savoy Jazz
- 1994 - The Boogie Wooge Boys || Magpie Records
- 1995 - Boogie Woogie Giants || Jazz Hour
- 2003 - '50 Sublimes Chanteurs de Jazz, 1940-1953 || Body & Soul
- 2005 - Boogie Woogie || Membran (10 discs)
|| indicates in print, as of February, 2009
- Big Joe Turner
- List of boogie woogie musicians
- List of jazz pianists
- List of people from Kansas City
- Kansas City Jazz
- First rock and roll record
- "Biography by Scott Yanow". Allmusic.com. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues - From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 127. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Allmusic.com - accessed May 2009
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 166. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- History-of-Rock website details
- Thedeadrockstarsclub.com - accessed May 2009