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.

Johnny recorded with Muddy Waters in his early sessions at Aristocrat Records, and when Leonard Chess took over the label, Johnny signed on as a solo artist, soon showing his confident songwriting and vocal abilities. Muddy returned the favour by playing on Johnny’s solo tracks, of which his ‘Big Town Playboy’ was a genuine classic and it would later prove to be a big hit for Eddie ‘Playboy’ Taylor. In 1951, Johnny teamed up with Elmore James, and for most of the fifties, the pair could regularly be found onstage at Sylvio’s Club on the West-side. As one of Elmore’s ‘Broomdusters’, Johnny played on all Elmore’s hits on the Bihari label and Elmore and the band backed Johnny when he recorded ‘Hoy, Hoy’ for Atlantic in 1954.

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.