Big Jack Johnson played his juke-joint guitar in a down-home and dirty style that would have been common all over the Delta eighty years previously, when the Blues were being born. Jack’s father might have been playing back then, and Jack played in the family string band from an early age. Spending his whole life near Clarksdale Mississippi, Jack was known as ‘The Oil Man’ because his day-job was driving an oil truck. Big Jack had originally played acoustic guitar in his Dad’s string band, but switched to electric guitar by 1962, when he formed The Nighthawks. The drummer in this band was Sam Carr (Robert Nighthawk‘s son) and alongside harp player Frank Frost, they later changed their name to The Jelly Roll Kings. They were almost unknown outside the local juke-joint circuit until their 1979 album ‘Rockin’ the Juke-Joint Down’, on Frank Frost’s own Earwig label, won critical acclaim. The band were suddenly in great demand and they began touring, including two trips to Holland. Big Jack recorded his solo ‘Oil-man’ album for Earwig in 1987. In the 90s, Big Jack’s reputation grew as he recorded a live set and three studio albums, as well as appearing in Robert Palmer‘s film ‘Deep Blues’.
In 2002, Texas harp player Kim Wilson collaborated with Big Jack on ‘The Memphis Barbecue Sessions’. Jack leads the backing band for Samuel L Jackson on ‘The Catfish Medley’ scenes in the 2006 film ‘Black Snake Moan’, and also appearing on the soundtrack. By 2009, when he released the Katrina album, as a tribute to the people of Mississippi, Big Jack was suffering from health problems, and they caught up with him a couple of years later.