Jimmy Johnson followed a circuitous route back to the blues he grew up within Mississippi to reemerge on the Chicago blues scene in the 1970s heralded as a fresh and exciting “new” voice in the music. Johnson was born Jimmy Thompson in Marshall County, Mississippi, on November 25, 1928. His father and younger brothers Mac and Syl were all musicians, and as a teenager, he counted Matt “Guitar” Murphy as a best friend. (Syl Thompson later became a soul star under the name Syl Johnson, and Jimmy and Mac eventually followed suit to become Johnsons.)
Jimmy sang gospel in Memphis and Chicago, finally trying his hand at playing blues guitar in the late ’50s. But soul music was hot in the ’60s, and Johnson began to find better-paying work playing shows and touring with his brother Syl, Otis Clay, Denise LaSalle, Bobby Rush, Tyrone Davis, and many others. As jobs on the soul circuit began to wane in the ‘70s, Johnson answered the call of the blues again when he joined the Jimmy Dawkins band in 1974. He soon began to develop his blues career with his own band, gigging in Chicago as well as making European tours and recording for the French MCM label, Alligator, and Delmark. The piercing, soulful quality of his vocals and guitar playing earned him a staunch following among blues fans, bringing him several W.C. Handy Blues Awards (now called Blues Music Awards) along the way.
Johnson cut back on traveling after a tragic accident in 1988. He and his band were returning from a job in Indiana when their van ran off the road, and two band members perished. But when he has chosen to perform and record again, he has proven that his talent remains undiminished, as evidenced by his live shows (even in his eighties sounding uncannily like he did 40 years earlier) and his albums for Verve in 1994 (voted Comeback Album of the Year), Ruf in 1999, and a pairing with brother Syl in 2002 on Evangeline, Two Johnsons are Better Than One.
Jimmy Johnson passed away in January 2022.