Bar Room Preacher

Jimmy Johnson

Alligator Records, 1983

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Most of the musicians who are sadly overlooked in the scene today are some of the hardest working - the blues musicians.

Way too many of these artists toil in one-night stands playing to rooms that may or may not be filled, and release records that, more often than not, end up hidden at music stores and in radio stations.

In the legendary Pierce Memorial Archives (open to the public - NOT), blues has always held a special place of honor. The emotion these musicians pour into their works can be heard and felt, and the Archives has a special portion reserved for such artists.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One of these is Jimmy Johnson, whose album Bar Room Preacher was released on CD just a few years ago; the vinyl has been out since, I believe, 1985. This is a classic example of contemporary blues at its smoothest and best, and can be found on a pedestal in the blues section of the Archives, next to artists such as B.B. King, Lonnie Brooks and Son Seals. (Some of these names don't sound familiar? Don't worry, I'll be talking more about them in future editions of "The Daily Vault.")

Johnson is a solid lead player and an okay rhythm guitarist, but it is his vocals that carry most of the music into the next level. His cover of Fenton Robinson's "You Don't Know What Love Is" reaches levels even Robinson himself didn't hit; the tempo is more upbeat, the leads tastier, the singing more soulful. One listen to this, and you'll know that the blues is supposed to invoke several different feelings in the listener. Johnson is able to hit almost every one of them at just the right time.

Johnson is comfortable performing anyone's music, from Robinson to John Lee Hooker ("When My First Wife Quit Me") to his own originals like "Heap See." The album's instrumental closer, "Missing Link," highlights incredible playing by Johnson, keyboardist Jene Pickett, bassist Larry Exum and drummer Fred Grady. In fact, don't write off Johnson as just a blues musician; his three compositions on this one all stand out as amazing.

In fact, very few cuts on Bar Room Preacher miss the mark, the only one being "Chicken Heads," which seems a little silly to be included on this one. Of the nine songs on the CD, this one seems the most out of place.

This album, originally released in France, was brought to these shores by Alligator Records, a Chicago-based blues label who, for over 25 years, have been finding the best blues musicians in the country and recording them. Jimmy Johnson sounded right at home with the Alligator lineup on Bar Room Preacher. If you can find this one at the local record shop, dig it out of the bins, dust it off, slap it into the CD player, and prepare to be wowed by one of the blues masters.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator Records, and is used for informational purposes only.