Welcome to Mississippi
When you hear ‘Mississippi,’ chances are, you think of the lush banks of the Mississippi delta and the plaintive howl of an acoustic guitar. You may also think of a deep, throaty voice singing into the clear nighttime sky as a honky-tonk piano bounces along. In other words, when you hear ‘Mississippi,’ you think of the blues.
So it makes perfect sense that a gifted blues vocalist named Bruce Mississippi Johnson would deliver the downhome delta blues in a way that evokes the very best of his home state.
As you may have guessed, Johnson was born in Mississippi – in a tiny hamlet called Starkville, where his earliest exposure to music came from his grandfather’s church choir and his father’s record collection. His childhood favorites included Al Green, Lou Rawls and his cousin, Jackie Wilson. Curiously, his fondness for the blues came years later.
A move to the larger city of Indianapolis, Indiana came when Johnson was twelve. And the adjustment wasn’t easy. His struggle to fit into his new surroundings ended when an unhappy encounter with a teacher led to his first vocal instructions.
According to Johnson, being disruptive in class prompted the teacher to notice both his insolent nature and his pleasing baritone. The teacher then mentioned the high school choir director. And soon, Bruce Johnson had found his new calling.
His early performance at a school talent show have left a stamp on his memory “I began to sing the first few words of my verse and all of a sudden all I could hear was girls screaming! I never forgot that sensation of being able to please people with something that I possessed.”
The Neighbour Next Door is from the album The Deal Baby
A Few Good Men
Next came a stint in the military. During seven years with the Marines, Johnson’s singing was mostly relegated to the showers. But being station in Kinshasa, Zaire brought him to his first gig. Soon his days as a front man began. And these days stayed with him when he was transferred to Paris, France.
The peak of his Paris years came with a first place finish in a competition judged by legendary jazz singer Nina Simone. The only move left for Johnson was a return trip home – not just a trip back to the United States, but a trip back to the music of his Mississippi home. The blues.
Great vocals are not unusual in the blues, but on the debut album of Bruce Mississippi Johnson, the vocals truly stand out. Johnson has the ability to soar to the sky with his uniquely resonant baritone. But instead of impressing us with flamboyant vocal gymnastics, he prefers a simplicity that blends elegantly with the blues.
Standout tracks include the Neighbor Next Door and No Good. Johnson’s work here is remarkably consistent, but versatile enough to provide a varied menu. This is a singer to watch.
The Deal Baby
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Back to Basics
Johnson had developed an appetite for down-home earthy sounds. So coming back to Mississippi, for him, meant connecting with the likes of B.B. King, Little Milton and Albert King. He’s boldly followed that beacon to the release of his first solo album, Big Deal Baby. Released independently, Johnson has taken the reins on his career in a way that recalls the old days of the itinerant blues man, travelling from town-to-town, guitar strapped to his back. This is a perfect metaphor from Johnson. The modern day travelling blues man, an embodiment of Mississippi blues.