Johnny Littlejohn was a Delta-born slide-guitar player whose style had much in common with Elmore James, but despite a long career on the Chicago club scene, and travelling the world as a side-man, he remained almost undiscovered outside his adopted hometown.
Johnny Funchess was born in Lake MS in 1931 and Henry Martin, a friend of his father, inspired him to take up guitar which he played at local parties and fish-fries. Relocating to Michigan in 1951, Johnny played clubs and bars in Detroit and Ann Arbor before moving on to Gary, Indiana for a while and eventually to Chicago
. Johnny’s authentic country-Blues voice and Delta
slide playing saw him front his own band around the South-side, often employing the talents of Jimmy Rogers alongside him. Jimmy Reed
used Johnny’s guitar on some recordings in 1956, but it wasn’t until 1968 that Arhoolie released his debut album. Chess
recorded four tracks for Johnny the following year with Mighty Joe Young
on ‘second’ guitar, but they remain un-issued. Johnny continued on the local club scene, with occasional session work until 1977 when his live album ‘Dream’, with long-time collaborators Aaron and Larry Burton, showed him to be a powerful exponent of the ‘Elmore’ style. A second solo album ‘Sweet Little Angel’ followed the next year, and Johnny contributed four tracks to the ‘Sultans of Slide’ album, along with Robert Nighthawk
, Earl Hooker
and Hound-Dog Taylor
. [stextbox id=”custom” caption=” Johnny Littlejohn Discography” float=”true” align=”left” width=”300″]This is the same recording as the 1993 album Chicago Blues Star, but cheaper!
[/stextbox]A lot of sessions and touring work stemmed from these great recordings, both in the USA and abroad, but Johnny never really made it as a front-man again despite some great live shows like the one he recorded in Japan with Carey Bell in 1982. On Johnny’s 1985 album ‘So-Called Friends’, his guitar was swamped by horns and around this time his health problems started to slow him down. Johnny passed away in 1994 from kidney failure.
Johnny at the Chicago Blues festival in 1991;
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