Born in February 1889 in New Orleans, Lonnie Johnson was an extremely gifted and technically advanced influential blues guitarist who's versatility allowed him to move effortlessly between hard edged blues through to smooth jazz and ballads. He came from a musical family, learning first on the violin but soon moving on to the guitar. He spent his teenage years busking around the bars of New Orleans, learning his craft, before venturing on to the road, his travels taking him as far as Europe. When he returned to New Orleans he found that many of his family and friends had died in the terrible flu epidemic that had struck the USA at that time. He moved to St Louis and then began playing the Mississippi river boats with bands such as the Jazz O' Maniacs. When he was in his mid 30's he won a contest which gained him a recording contract with Okeh Records and over the next few years he recorded prolifically for the label. He also played and recorded with jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, The Duke Ellington Orchestra and with Eddie Lang.
Johnson's career suffered during the great Depression of the 1930's and he moved first to Cleveland and then to Chicago seeking work. Like so many artists at the time, he was forced to work outside of music, grafting in a steel mill and a tyre factory. In 1939 he signed a contract with Bluebird collaborating very successfully with Lestor Melrose for six years. Then followed a period of great recording success and Johnson enjoyed a number of hits including the ballad "Tomorrow Night" and toured Europe in 1951. However the 1950's became lean years as interest in the blues waned with the onset of rock n' roll, and Johnson ended up working as a cook and janitor in a Philadelphia hotel. He was "re-discovered" during the folk blues revival of the early 1960's bringing him further recognition and he began recording again for Prestige Records, and he also toured Europe. He eventually moved to Canada, settling in Toronto, and sadly in 1969 Johnson was hit by a car. Although he survived the initial accident he eventually succumbed to the effects of his injuries, dying in 1970. An enormously gifted musician whose influence extended from Robert Johnson (who even claimed at one time to be related to Lonnie) to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.