Welcome to another entry in our season-long Spotlight Series! This week we’re featuring a true living legend of Chicago blues: Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson. An architect of the rough-and-tumble “West Side” sound, Johnson has been performing on stages everywhere from Poland to Japan since the 1960s, releasing four albums and taking home a GRAMMY award in the process. Tonight, he’s bringing the blues to Levitt AMP Woonsocket.
Johnson was born in the Mississippi Delta and drew heavy influence from gospel music growing up. His family moved to Chicago in the late 1950s, just as the city was becoming the de-facto epicenter of blues music. After singing and playing bass with a few local groups, Johnson picked up the six-string and adopted the moniker “Guitar Junior” at the age of 23 when his then-bandleader, Tall Milton Shelton, turned away from music following a religious awakening. Rather than let the group dissolve, Johnson took the reins and made it his own.
Johnson established himself as one of Chicago’s top guitar talents over the next several years, and eventually caught the attention of one of the most venerated bluesmen of all time: Muddy Waters. He joined Muddy’s crew in 1972, coincidentally replacing guitarist Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson in the band. Guitar Junior toured the world with this all-star lineup for the next eight years, recording his first solo album, Luther’s Blues, while on the road in France in 1977.
When the band dissolved in 1980, Johnson created a supergroup called The Legendary Blues Band with several other Chicago heavyweights. The group famously appears in the classic film The Blues Brothers as John Lee Hooker’s backing band. Soon after, Johnson parted ways with Chicago and moved out to the East Coast, forming a new band called the Magic Rockers and further refining his sound. He contributed to the GRAMMY-winning compilation album Blues Explosion in 1985.
Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson’s raw, soulful, and thoroughly original style of Chicago blues will be on full display tonight at Levitt AMP Woonsocket. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this storied artist perform for free!