Lazy Lester

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Lazy Lester
Lester in 2004
Lester in 2004
Background information
Birth nameLeslie Johnson
Born(1933-06-20)June 20, 1933
Torras, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedAugust 22, 2018(2018-08-22) (aged 85)
Paradise, California, U.S.
GenresSwamp blues, harmonica blues, rhythm and blues, Louisiana blues[1]
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar, harmonica, percussion, bass guitar
LabelsExcello, Alligator, Telarc

Leslie Johnson[2][3] (June 20, 1933 – August 22, 2018),[1][4] better known as Lazy Lester, was an American blues musician who sang and played the harmonica and guitar. His career spanned the 1950s to 2018.

Best known for regional hits recorded with Ernie Young's Nashville-based Excello Records, Lester also contributed to songs recorded by other Excello artists, including Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, and Katie Webster. Cover versions of his songs have been recorded by (among others) the Kinks, the Flamin' Groovies, Freddy Fender, Dwight Yoakam, Dave Edmunds, Raful Neal, Anson Funderburgh, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. In the comeback stage of his career (since the late 1980s) he recorded new albums backed by Mike Buck, Sue Foley, Gene Taylor, Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson, and Jimmie Vaughan.


Lester started playing the guitar around age 11 and began performing in his teens around Baton Rouge with Raful Neal, later co-founding the Rhythm Rockers.[5] In the mid-1950s, Lester was on the margins of the Louisiana blues scene. According to Rolling Stone (February 23, 2006), Buddy Guy, before moving to Chicago, had played in Louisiana with some of the old masters: Lightnin' Hopkins, Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo. When Guy left for Chicago, in 1957, Lester replaced him, on guitar, in a local band - even though Lester, at that time, did not own such an instrument.

Lester's career took off when he found a seat next to Lightnin' Slim on a bus transporting Slim to an Excello recording session. At the studio, the scheduled harmonica player did not appear. Slim and Lester spent the afternoon unsuccessfully trying to find him, when Lester volunteered that he could play the harmonica. Lester's work on that first Lightnin' Slim session led the producer, Jay Miller, to record Lester as solo artist and also to use him as a multi-instrumentalist on percussion, guitar, bass, and harmonica in sessions headlined by other artists whose recordings were produced by Miller, including, notably, Slim Harpo.[6] 'Percussion' on these sessions went beyond the traditional drum kit and included a rolled-up newspaper striking a cardboard box.[1] Miller dubbed Lester "Lazy Lester" because of his laconic, laid-back style.[1]

More than his vocal delivery, Lester is best remembered for songs that were later covered by a wide range of rock, country, blues, and Tex-Mex stars, chiefly, "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter," "I Hear You Knockin'," and "Sugar Coated Love".[6]

Lester stated that he wrote these songs, but almost all are credited to Miller or to Lester and Miller. Lester also stated he received few royalties, which embittered him and made him skeptical of the music industry. By the late 1960s, he had given up on the music industry,[6] working manual labor and pursuing his favorite hobby - fishing. Lester eventually moved to Pontiac, Michigan, living with Slim Harpo's sister.

In 1971, Fred Reif set up a Lightnin' Slim concert at the University of Chicago Folk Festival, and Lester was brought up from Louisiana to accompany him. A few weeks after that performance, Lester was back in Louisiana. Years later, Reif and Lester were both in Michigan, from where Reif orchestrated a comeback. Lester recorded and played around the United States and abroad, backed by blues bands, including, frequently, Loaded Dice.

Lester's recordings in this period were on blues labels Alligator and Telarc, alongside releases in Europe.

In September 2002, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Boston Blues Society.[citation needed]

In 2003, Martin Scorsese included Lester in his blues tribute concert at Radio City Music Hall, a record of which was released as the film and album Lightning in A Bottle. The group photograph inside the album depicted Lester grinning, dead-center among peers and musical progeny including B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Buddy Guy, Levon Helm, Chuck D, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, John Fogerty, and Aerosmith.

Lester lived in Paradise, California, with his girlfriend.,[7] and appeared in the 2015 documentary film I Am the Blues.[8]

Lester continued to perform nationally and abroad into 2018, often returning to Louisiana where he regularly shared the stage with Lil' Buck Sinegal, Carol Fran, and Kenny Neal. In the same year, he appeared and performed in a television commercial aired nationally for Geico Insurance.[9]

Lester died of cancer on August 22, 2018, at the age of 85.[10]

Selected discography[edit]

  • True Blues - 1967, Excello LP
  • Lazy Lester Rides Again - 1987, King Snake
  • Harp & Soul - 1988, Alligator (featuring Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal)
  • Lazy Lester - 1989, Flyright (France) (previously unreleased Excello session takes from the 1960s)
  • I'm a Lover Not a Fighter - 1994, Excello/Ace
  • I Hear You Knockin' - 1994, Excello/AVI
  • All Over You - 1998, Antone's (recorded 1997 - featuring Derek O'Brien, Sue Foley, Sarah Brown)
  • Lazy Lester - 2000, (6-song audiophile 12" EP), APO (recorded October 12–13 - featuring Henry Gray, Jimmy D. Lane)
  • Superharps II - 2001, Telarc (co-billed with Carey Bell, Raful Neal, Snooky Pryor)
  • Blues Stop Knockin' - 2001, Antone's (featuring Jimmie Vaughan)
  • Blues On My Radio - 2004, SWMAF (featuring Louisiana Red)
  • Family Meeting - 2008, Ruf - double album by Wentus Blues Band
  • One More Once - 2010, Karonte/Cambaya (Produced by Mike Vernon)
  • You Better Listen - 2011, Bluestown (recorded in Notodden, Norway)
  • "New Orleans" (featuring Maurice 'Big Mo' Huffman) on Big Mo's album Torn - 2011

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Dahl, Bill (1933-06-20). "Lazy Lester: Biography". Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  2. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 179. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  3. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 133. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  4. ^ "Lazy Lester - Swamp Blues Pioneer - Blues Profile - Biography". 11 April 2006. Archived from the original on 11 April 2006. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  5. ^ Tomko, Gene (2020). Encyclopedia of Louisiana Musicians: Jazz, Blues, Cajun, Creole, Zydeco, Swamp Pop, and Gospel. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 154. ISBN 9780807169322.
  6. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who's Who of Blues (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 230/2. ISBN 0-85112-673-1.
  7. ^ "Lazy Lester". Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  8. ^ "Here Are 6 Must-See Music Films at Hot Docs". Exclaim!, April 19, 2016.
  9. ^ GEICO Insurance (26 June 2018). "Lazy Lester Riffs on The Gecko - GEICO". YouTube. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  10. ^ Nash, JD (23 August 2018). "Blues Hall of Famer Lazy Lester Dead at 85 - American Blues Scene". Retrieved 23 August 2018.

External links[edit]