November 14, 1936|
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Joseph "Smokey" Johnson (born November 14, 1936, New Orleans) is an American drummer. He is one of the musicians, session players, and songwriters who have served as the backbone for New Orleans' output of jazz, funk, blues, soul, and R&B music.
Johnson was raised in Tremé, where he attended Craig School and Clark High School. He played trombone before switching to drums at age 12. Around age 17 he began playing in local dance clubs.
Soon thereafter, Johnson went with Quezergue and childhood friend Joe Jones, and several other New Orleans artists (including Johnny Adams and Earl King) to audition for Motownin Detroit, where they recorded numerous demo sessions. Earl King once remarked that at least part of the reason why they got in the door was Motown's fascination with Smokey Johnson, who could do more on a trap set by himself than any two of the label's session drummers. Although Motown ended up not signing any of the New Orleans artists, Johnson offered to remain on staff while the other New Orleans artists were dispatched.
Johnson remained in Detroit for several months before deciding to return home; but his influence on the Motown sound was profound, as the other drummers studied his techniques, incorporating them into countless hit sessions.
In 1964, about a year after Nola Records was formed in New Orleans, Quezergue a partner in the label as well as principal producer/arranger, invited Johnson to be the drummer for label's house band. After a few months, Johnson and Quezergue wound up writing and recording what has become a New Orleans Mardi Gras standard called "It Ain't My Fault". Deftly arranged, "It Ain't My Fault" is a fascinating early example of both Johnson and Quezergue incorporating Second Line syncopation into pop music. The arranger's device of starting off with just the drummer's relaxed but intricate percussive work (plus somebody hitting what sounds like a glass bottle) quickly pulls the listener into the song, even before the simple musical hook, played by just the guitar and piano. George Davis runs the guitar riffs on the first side with that recognizable style made famous several years later on Robert Parker's "Barefootin'".
While the lighthearted, hard to resist "It Ain't My Fault" was enjoyed locally in New Orleans, it did not have a national impact at the time, it set the stage for many more uniquely funked up grooves to follow, and over time has become a Mardi Gras favorite and a part of the brass band repertoire. "It Ain't My Fault", which sometimes is called "No, It Ain't My Fault" was recorded by groups such as the Olympia Brass Band (formerly Dejean's Olympia Brass Band) (seven times), the Rebirth Brass Band, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Charmaine Neville, Milton Batiste, Shane Theriot (guitarist for the Neville Brothers), the Young Olympians, the Ambrosia Brass Band, David Roe, Cole Prior Stevens  and the Zydeco All-Stars.
In 1998, Vyshon Miller p/k/a Silkk the Shocker, the brother of Percy "Master P" Miller recorded a rap version of the song "It Ain't My Fault", which was released on the album Charge it 2 da Game. Based on the success of his version, in 1999, Silkk the Shocker recorded yet another rap version of the song, this time featuring the rap artist Mystikal (Michael Tyler), which appeared on the album Made Mann. These versions of the song showed up on more than 40 different albums, prompting Johnson and Quezergue to hire Packard Phillips of the law firm Eveline, Davis and Phillips to sue Silkk the Shocker and his record label, No Limit. At the same time, Johnson and Quezergue sued Joe Jones, who claimed that Johnson assigned the song to Jones, as well as Aaron Fuchs' Tuff City Records, which claimed that both Johnson and Quezergue assigned the song to Tuff City.[Case: 99-cv-01374-SSV]
Tuff City responded to the lawsuit by hiring its own intellectual property attorney, Oren Warshavsky. Despite the fact that Johnson did not have a written agreement with Tuff City, Warshavsky successfully convinced the court that Johnson and Quezergue assigned the song to Tuff City, and then convinced the Court to dismiss the claims by Johnson and Quezergue against Tuff City.[Johnson et al. v. Tuff 'N' Rumble et al., 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12071, 2000 WL 1145748, Copy. L. Rep. P28,145 (E.D. La. August 14, 2000)] Thereafter, Warshavsky also had the Court dismiss the claims against Silkk the Shocker.[Johnson et al. v. Tuff 'N' Rumble et al., 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18299, 2000 WL 1808486 (E.D. La. December 8, 2000)]. Finally, then working on behalf of Tuff City, Wardell Quezergue and Johnson, Warshavsky was able to attain summary judgment against Joe Jones and his publishing company Melder Music on the issue of copyright infringement, including an award of attorney fees.[Johnson et al. v. Tuff 'N' Rumble et al., 2000 WL 1808431 (E.D. La. December 11, 2000)]
Johnson is now a resident of Musicians' Village, a Habitat for Humanity project in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
- Rhythm Method at the Wayback Machine (archived April 4, 2005). Interview with Smokey Johnson. Offbeat, July 2000. Wayback Machine archived copy.
- http://www.mp3.com/news/stories/10716.html[dead link]
- Live New Orleans Music Reviews: Legends of Drumming
- It Ain't My Fault - Critics' Reviews on MSN Music
- Louisiana Music Artist Directory: Al "Lil Fats" Jackson to JW
- http://funky16corners.tripod.com/5_reviews.htm[dead link]
- Home of the Groove: Funky To A Fault
- Soul Jazz Records — Saturday Night Fish Fry — New Orleans Funk and Soul
- Harold Dejan - Best of New Orleans Jazz CD Album
- Harold Dejan - New Orleans Jazz, Vol. 3: Jazz Party CD Album
- New Orleans: Rebuild Restore Rejoice CD Album
- Ultimate New Orleans CD Album
- Best of Jazz Fest: Live From New Orleans CD Album
- City of Dreams: A Collection of New Orleans Music CD Album
- New Orleans Brass Bands: Down Yonder CD Album
- Rebirth Brass Band - Here to Stay CD Album
- Mardi Gras Essentials CD Album
- Charmaine Neville - Queen of the Mardi Gras CD Album
- Milton Batiste - With Rue Conti Jazz Band CD Album
- Shane Theriot - Highway 90 CD Album
- Ultimate Street Parade: New Orleans Brass Bands CD Album
- David Roe - Angel of New Orleans CD Album
- Cole Prior Stevens - Out of the Blue CD Album
- Zydeco All Stars - Best of Zydeco Instrumentals CD Album
- http://www.offbeat.com/ob2007/rhythm_method.html[dead link]