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Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson was born near Terry, Mississippi in 1896. In around 1910 he moved to Crystal Springs, where he would live most of his life. He learned to play guitar and by 1914 he was earning extra money by playing at parties with his brothers. In 1916 he married and moved to Webb Jennings' plantation near Drew, Mississippi. There he would meet musicians such as Charlie Patton and Willie Brown.
By 1920 he was an alcoholic and a travelling musician, whilst still based in Crystal Springs. He would sometimes be accompanied by Papa Charlie McCoy. In 1928 McCoy would join him on his first recordings, which were for Victor Records. Included in the recordings was the song "Canned Heat Blues". The song would inspire the name of the band Canned Heat. Johnson's other song "Big Road Blues" would also inspire Canned Heat's song "On the Road Again". Johnson would also record two sessions for Victor in August 1928 and recorded for Paramount Records in December 1929. He would not record again, believing that he had signed away the right to record. It is suggested that some of the people at Paramount Records gave him this impression. After the Mississippi Sheiks used the melody of Johnson's "Big Road Blues" in their song "Stop and Listen" a copyright settlement was signed. Johnson, though, was too drunk to understand what he had signed. Johnson was a highly influential Delta Blues musician. His vocals inspired the likes of Robert Nighthawk and Howlin' Wolf. As a guitarist he performed tricks such as playing between his legs, behind his head and throwing it in the air while playing. To enhance his reputation he claimed to have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for his mastery of the guitar. The story would be later used by the unrelated Robert Johnson. In the 1930's and 1940's he would continue perform in the Jackson area, often accompanied by Ishman Bracey.
Johnson died of a heart attack in 1956 after playing at a party. From 2006 onward the annual Tommy Johnson Blues Festival has been held in Crystal Springs.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
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