||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2008)|
Lester in 2004
|Birth name||Leslie Johnson|
June 20, 1933 |
Torras, Louisiana, United States
|Genres||Swamp blues, harmonica blues, rhythm and blues, Louisiana blues|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, harmonica, percussion, bass guitar|
|Labels||Excello, Alligator, Telarc|
|Associated acts||Lightnin' Slim|
Best known for regional hits recorded with Ernie Young's Nashville, Tennessee based Excello label, Lester also contributed to songs recorded by Excello label-mates including Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, and Katie Webster. His songs have been covered 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 has recorded new albums backed by Mike Buck, Sue Foley, Gene Taylor, Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson, and Jimmie Vaughan.
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 the time, did not own such a musical 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's solo and also to use him as a multi-instrumentalist on percussion, guitar, bass, and harmonica on sessions headlined by other Miller-produced artists including, notably, Slim Harpo. "Percussion" on these sessions went beyond the traditional drum kit, and included a rolled-up newspaper on a cardboard box.
Miller dubbed Lester "Lazy Lester" because of his laconic, laid-back style.
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."
Lester stated that he wrote these songs, but almost all are officially 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, Lester had given up on the music industry, working manual labor and pursuing his favorite hobby—fishing. Lester moved to Pontiac, Michigan, living with Slim Harpo's sister.
In 1971, Fred Rei and Lester accompanied Slim. 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.
If disenchanted, Lester retained his harmonica, guitar, and vocal talents (the songwriting that had been muse to The Kinks and Dwight Yoakam having dried up long before). In September 2002, a Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded by the Boston Blues Society.
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.
- True Blues, circa 1966, Excello LP 8006 SO-1
- Lazy Lester Rides Again, 1987, King Snake KS007 (recorded in the UK, May 25–28, 1987)
- Harp & Soul, 1988, Alligator 4768 (featuring Lucky Peterson and Kenny Neal)
- Lazy Lester, 1989, Flyright (France) 007 (previously unreleased 1960s Excello session takes)
- I'm a Lover Not a Fighter, 1994, Excello/Ace 518
- I Hear You Knockin', 1994, Excello/Avi 3003
- All Over You, 1998, Antones ANT 10042 (recorded 1997, featuring Derek O'Brien, Sue Foley, Sarah Brown)
- Lazy Lester, (audiophile EP), APO 003 (recorded October 12–13, 2000 featuring Henry Gray)
- Superharps II, 2001, Telarc 83514 (co-billed with Carey Bell, Raful Neal, Snooky Pryor)
- Blues Stop Knockin', 2001, Antones TMG-ANT 0051 (featuring Jimmie Vaughan)
- Blues On My Radio, 2004, SWMAF 01 (featuring Louisiana Red)
- Family Meeting, 2008, Ruf, double album by Wentus Blues Band
- You Better Listen, 2011, Bluestown records, recorded in Norway (Notodden).
- The Southern Legends Entertainment & Performing Arts Hall of Fame
- San Francisco Blues Festival
- List of swamp blues musicians
- List of harmonica blues musicians
- List of harmonicists
- Music of Louisiana
- Blues harp