Big Bill Broonzy said that Lonnie Johnson could pick up a violin, bass, mandolin, banjo or guitar and play each one real well, and could sing his ass off too. His unique style, playing single note lines and advance flat picking technique turned him to a model for many jazz blues guitar players. Being a talented composer and multi instrumentalist, Johnson was getting hot recording spots with the biggest names like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
Worked as a violinist with family band, 1914-17; in 1917 went to London with a revue tour; 1920 joined Charlie Creath’s band and performed with Fate Marable; won Okeh Records talent contest 1925; made recording debut with Charlie Creath; landed hit with first Okeh recordings 1925; from 1925 to 1927 worked as a house muscian for Okeh; appeared a guest recording musician with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five; The following year guest recording musician with Duke Ellington and the Chocolate Dandies; recorded famous duets with guitarist Eddie Lang 1929; toured with Bessie Smith; settled in Cleveland and performed in band of Putney Danderidge 1932; from 1937 to 1940 worked with Warren “Baby” Dodds at Three Dueces in Chicago; recorded for Decca 1937-38; recorded with Blue Bird label 1939-43; recorded with King Records 1947 and landed biggest hit “Tommorow Night” in 1948; toured England 1952; worked outside of music until redicovery in 1959; recorded with Prestige label 1960-61 and performed at Town Hall concerts in New York; went to Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival 1963; moved to Toronto, 1965, opened own blues club in 1966; performed last show at Toronto’s Massey Hall in 1970.
Ellington said: “[Johnson] must have must have been a good man, because he spoke only good about other people, and I never heard anyone speak anything but good of him. God bless Lonnie Johnson.”