Johnson's Whacks

The Jimmy Johnson Band

Delmark Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It never fails: no sooner do I get through praising an artist then I forget about them for, oh, eighteen months. Today's subject: bluesman Jimmy Johnson, who last graced these pages on January 14, 1997 - our second freakin' day online. (Fortunately, Jimmy's been cool about the whole thing - I haven't gotten any threatening messages from him.)

This brings me to today's review of Johnson's 1979 outing Johnson's Whacks. (By the way, I don't like the new album cover art as pictured above. The original cover pictured Johnson's guitar about to be struck with an ax; the back cover pictured a guitar that looked like Pete Townshend got his hands on it.) While the production work is a little more raw than I'd like it to be, it does fairly represent Johnson's skills as a bluesman.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Ironically, the star of the album to my ears isn't Johnson. Rather, it's drummer Dino Alvarez, who demonstrates some interesting skills as a blues drummer, even to the point of throwing in fills I normally hear from rock drummers. Having spent time behind the skins with Junior Wells and Howlin' Wolf beforehand, there's no doubt he knew his chops, and the sound he gets from the trap kit proves it.

Johnson, meanwhile, breaks from the traditional style of blues and dares to add a sense of humor to the music. "The Twelve Bar Blues" is proof of this: "I drank a dozen Buds, but I don't feel any wiser" is just one example of the wit Johnson shows. Some of the humor even dares to go to the sexual side, as heard on "Jockey Sports".

Johnson proves on Johnson's Whacks he's capable not only of playing a new style of blues, but also the traditional style, as heard on J. Irby's "Drivin' Nails In My Coffin". And when it comes to showing off his ability on the six string, "Take Five" is as good of a showcase piece as I can imagine.

The greatest weakness with Johnson's Whacks isn't the rawer sound to the production; rather, it's that some of the music doesn't have an exciting edge to the sound, leaving the listener a bit bored. The second side of the album, containing tracks like "Poor Man's Dream" and "I Need Some Easy Money" just seemed to blur together for me - and that's something a blues album (or any album, for that matter) shouldn't do.

Still, the playing of Johnson and his backing band (pianist Carl Snyder, bassist Ike Anderson and Alvarez, plus a few guest musicians) is impressive, demonstrating why some people considered Johnson to be the next big thing in the blues world. (Unfortunately, he never did reach the levels of artists like B.B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughan - not that he didn't deserve to be held in high regard.)

Johnson's Whacks might not be the easiest album to find (though Music Boulevard did advertise as having it available), and it might not be the best example of what Johnson is capable of. But if you have heard any of Johnson's previous work and liked it, you're sure to enjoy this disc as well.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 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 Delmark Records, and is used for informational purposes only.