If the confusion over two harp players using the name Sonny Boy Williamson wasn’t enough, there are THREE Luther Johnsons, all born in the South around the same time, and all play a mean Blues guitar. Lucious Johnson performed as Luther ‘Snake Boy’ Johnson, and was sometimes known as ‘Georgia Boy’ in reference to his Davisboro GA origins. Luther ‘Houserocker’ Johnson played rocking Jimmy Reed-style guitar, but never really made it outside his hometown region of Atlanta. Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson is from the heart of the Mississippi Delta, and after a long spell in Muddy Waters‘ band, he has made a good career leading his band The Magic Rockers.
In 1939, Luther was born in Itta Bena MS, and his early musical education centred around Gospel music, but he saw legendary Bluesmen like Rice ‘Sonny Boy II’ Miller and Robert Nighthawk in nearby Greenwood. His family relocated to Chicago when he was 16, and suddenly he was surrounded by urban Blues during its fertile ‘Golden Age’. Luther got started as a singer and dancer with Ray Scott’s band, and later sang and played bass for Tall Milton Shelton. When Milton turned to religion in 1962, Luther took up lead guitar and led the band and, still only 23, he adopted the name ‘Guitar Junior’. The West-side club scene was in full flow, and Luther fell in with Magic Sam, joining his band for a couple of years and adopting a spiky, aggressive guitar style. After a period as a sideman for Sunnyland Slim, Willie Kent and Jimmy Dawkins, Luther cut his first single in 1972.
Luther & the Magic Rockers play some real Blues at a bar gig;
Luther 'Guitar Junior' Johnson Discography
This is probably Luther’s finest album. A confident singer and a fiery guitarist, Luther puts everything into these 16 tracks, which catch him in a variety of moods from Funky Soul/Blues to Jump-Blues, to smoky West-side numbers and even a couple of acoustic tracks. From the Delta to the City and from hard-edged Chicago club sounds to modern funky dance tracks, Luther explores all kinds of Blues and shows his masterful talents in all of them.
Muddy Waters recruited Luther to his band at this time to replace (big co-incidence) Luther ‘Snake Boy’ Johnson. In an eight year stretch as Muddy’s lead guitarist, Luther toured The States and Europe and appeared on several of the big guy’s albums. Luther’s own debut album ‘Luther’s Blues’ was cut for the French Black & Blue label, with Pinetop Perkins, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and Jerry Portnoy from Muddy’s crew. When that version of the band broke up in 1980, Luther made an appearance in John Lee Hooker‘s band in The Blues Brothers film. Soon Luther relocated to New England and formed his own outfit, The Magic Rockers, often working with The Roomful of Blues horn section. Eight further albums have proved Luther’s durability, and he picked up a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1985. Even if he hadn’t been based in Chicago for years, the title of his 1996 album ‘Slammin’ on the West Side’ sums up Luther’s approach exactly. He also played on three albums by long-running Washington band The Nighthawks, but Luther is now resident in New Hampshire, and still rocking.