Contemporary Mississippi blues doesnít get any nastier than in Big Jack Johnsonís capable hands. The ex-oil truck driverís axe cuts like a rusty machete, his rough-hewn vocals a siren call to Delta passion. But heís a surprisingly versatile songwriter; Daddy, When Is Mama Comin Home?, his ambitious 1990 set for Earwig, found him tackling issues as varied as AIDS, wife abuse, and Chinese blues musicians in front of slick, horn-leavened arrangements!
Big Jack Johnson was a chip off the old block musically. His dad was a local musician playing both blues and country ditties at local functions; by the time he was thirteen years old, Johnson was sitting in on guitar with his dadís band. At age 18, Johnson was following B.B. Kingís electrified lead. His big break came when he sat in with bluesmen Frank Frost and Sam Carr at the Savoy Theatre in Clarksdale. The symmetry between the trio was such that they were seldom apart for the next fifteen years, recording for Phillips International and Jewel with Frost, the bandleader.
Chicago blues aficionado Michael Frank was so mesmerized by the trioís intensity when he heard them playing in 1975 at Johnsonís Mississippi bar, the Black Fox, that Frank Frost eventually formed Earwig just to capture their steamy repertoire. That album, Rockiní the Juke Joint Down, came out in 1979 (as by the Jelly Roll Kings) and marked Johnsonís first recordings as a singer.
Johnsonís subsequent 1987 album for Earwig, The Oil Man, still ranks as his most intense and moving - sporting a hair-raising rendition of ďCatfish Blues.Ē The Ď90s have been good to Big Jack Johnson. In addition to Daddy, When is Mama Comin Home?, he released a live record and two studio albums - 1996ís We Got to Stop This Killing and 1998ís All the Way Back. He also appeared in the acclaimed film documentary Deep Blues and on its resulting soundtrack, returning in 2000 with Roots Stew.