Mississippi born Johnny was a stalwart of the post-War Blues scene in Chicago, as a session pianist and side-man for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Magic Sam. He was a pretty good barrelhouse pianist when he arrived in Chicago from Jackson MS, at the age of 22, and was soon taking the stage with Tampa Red who had an eye for talent. Red’s pianist Big Maceo suffered a stroke in 1946, and Little Johnny stood in for him in the band, gaining many valuable lessons in South-side club style from the wounded giant. When Maceo proved unable to play again, he sang on some records with Johnny at the keyboard, using the young Otis Spann on other tracks, and all three men would play club gigs together.
Swaggering piano and vocals on ‘Big Town Playboy’;
By the early 60s, Johnny was a sought after session pianist, appearing on Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Little Red Rooster’ and dozens of less famous records. He played the clubs with Willie Dixon, Rice ‘Sonny Boy II’ Miller, Magic Sam and many others, and Alligator Records released a wonderful live album of Johnny playing with Billy Boy Arnold at The Fickle Pickle in 1963. Sadly, Johnny’s ongoing chest problems turned out to be lung cancer and he died in 1964.