Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson – Once In A Blue Moon | Album Review

Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson – Once In A Blue Moon

Crossroads Blues Media – 2021

8 tracks; 75.12 minutes

Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson started out in Chicago, played with Magic Sam in the 60’s and with Muddy Waters between 1972 and 1980. He moved to the East Coast and released albums on Bullseye and Telarc between 1992 and 2001. He relocated to Florida in 2017 and is still active in his 80’s, as this release demonstrates. This album follows on the heels of an acoustic album in 2020 and was recorded live at The Hideaway Cafe in St Petersburg, Florida, with Luther’s band The Magic Rockers. The recording date was October 31, 2020, and, for the first time in 75 years there was a blue moon that night, gifting a title to the album. Luther handles the vocals and shares guitar duties with up and coming Florida player Chris ‘Kid’ Royal, Pat Herlehy on sax, Pete Nadeau on keys, Otis Doncaster on harp, Mickey Maguire on bass and the appropriately named Magic Drumski on…drums!

The set opens with a relaxed take on “CC Rider” that runs to over twelve minutes, so there is lots of space for everyone to show their paces and the evidence immediately is that everyone is on form. The pace increases for Luther’s shuffle “Flippin’ & Floppin’” on which Pat blows impressively before Luther interprets “Fever”, best known from Little Willie John’s or Peggy Lee’s smoky version. A medley of Muddy Waters tunes follows, combining “Hoochie Coochie Man” with “I’m A Man”. Luther starts off slowly, the sax, harp and guitar playing the familiar refrain (though we should note the effect of inflation when Luther sings that he has “$1400, don’t you mess with me”). The song builds in intensity, especially when Luther leads the band into the “I’m A Man” section.

We then get a run of three of Luther’s songs. “Thank You Sugar” rolls and tumbles along and Pat catches fire on an extended solo, well supported by Kid’s rhythm fills. Luther introduces “Stealin’ Chickens” by claiming that he really was thinking about chickens when he wrote it; a likely story, as one can discern over the extended track that clocks in at just short of twenty minutes, so again plenty of solo opportunities (notably for keys man Pete) on a song with a lot of double entendre lyrics.

The slow blues “You Got Me Wonderin’” has a lovely intro with the two guitarists playing together before Luther sings about frequent calls from a “wrong number”, but always the same guy; looks like the relationship is in trouble! The album concludes with another extended tune, this time “Mean Old World”, here credited to both T-Bone Walker and to Little Walter; only fair as both recorded the song and their versions share a lot of the lyrics.

Luther strips the song back to the basics, with harpman Otis prominent from the start, before the song builds, with fine sax and organ work, though the final section disappoints as Luther repeats ‘happy’ over and over to close out the song. To judge by Luther’s words at the end, this was the song before a break, not the finale of the evening, but, for whatever reason, it is the final song on this disc.

This is a good album of mainly classic Chicago blues, with the sax adding something extra to the band. For a guy in his eighties, Luther puts on a fine show and his band is great too. An enjoyable listen!

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