Big Jack Johnson

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Big Jack Johnson
Big Jack Johnson - Chicago Blues Festival 2009.jpg
Johnson performing at the Chicago Blues Festival, 2009
Background information
Birth name Jack N. Johnson
Born (1940-07-30)July 30, 1940
Lambert, Mississippi, United States
Died March 14, 2011(2011-03-14) (aged 70)
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Genres Delta blues, country blues, electric blues
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, mandolin, bass, vocals
Years active 1960–2011
Labels Earwig Records, various
Associated acts Jelly Roll Kings, Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers

Jack N. Johnson,[1] known as Big Jack Johnson (July 30, 1939[1] or 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."[2][3] He was one of a small number of blues musicians who played the mandolin. He won a W. C. Handy Award in 2003 for best acoustic blues album.[3][4]


Johnson was born in Lambert, Mississippi, in 1940, one of 18 children in his family.[5][6] His father, Ellis Johnson, was a sharecropper, and his family picked cotton, but he was also a professional musician, leading a band at local functions and playing fiddle and mandolin in country and blues styles.[3][5] Big Jack got his start in music playing with his father. In his teens, he began playing the electric guitar, attracted to the urban sound of B.B. King.[3][5]

Johnson was nicknamed "The Oil Man", because of his day job as a truck driver for Shell Oil.[5] He was the father of 13 children.

His earliest professional playing, apart from his father's band, was with Earnest Roy, Sr., C. V. Veal & the Shufflers, and Johnny Dugan & the Esquires.[7]

In 1962, Johnson, Sam Carr and Frank Frost formed the Jelly Roll Kings and the Nighthawks, in which Johnson played bass, releasing two albums, Hey Boss Man (1962) and My Back Scratcher (1966).[8][9] Johnson's first recordings as a vocalist are on the 1979 album Rockin' the Juke Joint Down, issued by Earwig Music.[9][10] With Frost as the bandleader, they performed and recorded together for 15 years.[10]

Johnson's first solo album, The Oil Man, including the song "Catfish Blues", was released by Earwig in 1987.[9][10] He recorded solo and as a member of the Jelly Roll Kings[6] and Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers (with the poet and musician Dick Lourie).

He wrote and performed "Jack's Blues" and performed "Catfish Medley" with Samuel L. Jackson on the soundtrack of the film Black Snake Moan.[11] His album Daddy, When Is Mama Comin Home? (1990) presents social concerns.[10]

He subsequently performed 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. They recorded the albums Katrina (2009) andBig Jack's Way (2012).

Johnson died from an undisclosed illness on March 14, 2011.[9] According to family members, he had struggled with health problems in his final years, worsening to the point that there were erroneous reports of his death in the days leading up to it.[9]

Partial discography[edit]

  • The Oil Man (1987)
  • Rooster Blues (1987)
  • Daddy, When Is Mama Comin' Home (1991)
  • We Got to Stop This Killin' (1996)
  • Live in Chicago (1997)
  • All the Way Back* (1998)
  • Live in Chicago* (1998)
  • Roots Stew* (2000)
  • The Memphis Barbecue Sessions (2002)
  • Black Snake Moan (2007)
  • Juke Joint Saturday Night Live (2008)
  • Katrina (2009)
  • Big Jack's Way (2010)[12]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 203. ISBN 978-0313344237. 
  2. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 160. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d Russell, Tony (June 1, 2011). "Blues, Big Jack Johnson obituary, One of the last of the rural deep south juke-joint bluesmen". The Guardian. Retrieved October 11, 2015. 
  4. ^ "2003 W.C. Handy Blues Awards Winners". Billboard. May 23, 2003. Retrieved October 11, 2015. Acoustic Blues Album of the Year: Big Jack Johnson, "Memphis Bar-B-Que Sessions" 
  5. ^ a b c d Howell, Dave (January 12, 1996). "Big Jack Johnson's Blues Are Aimed at the Heart". The Morning Call. Allentown, Pennsylvania. Retrieved October 12, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Big Jack Johnson Bio" (PDF). JW Entertainment at Hudson River Park web site. Retrieved 2007-11-05. [dead link]
  7. ^ "Big Jack Johnson - Clarksdale". The Mississippi Blues Foundation. Retrieved October 12, 2015. 
  8. ^ Russell, Tony (June 1, 2011). "Big Jack Johnson Obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  9. ^ a b c d e "Mississippi bluesman Big Jack Johnson dies". Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  10. ^ a b c d Dahl, Bill. "Big Jack Johnson | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-10-12. 
  11. ^ "Soundtracks for Black Snake Moan". at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-11-05. 
  12. ^ "Big Jack Johnson | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-10-12. 

External links[edit]