Bobby Broom remembers his friend and guitarist extraordinaire, Jef Lee Johnson
A little over 5 years ago, I wrote a farewell piece entitled, “My Friend, Jef Lee Johnson” Its purpose was in part to say goodbye after his passing. The other reason I wrote it was to, hopefully, introduce him and his music to those that were unfamiliar with him.
Five years later, as far as I can tell, he’s still widely unknown. I’ve seen no requiems or magazine tributes to a guitarist who, in my eyes, is an all-time great on the instrument and a highly important and prolific musician/composer.
Fortunately however, some understand the importance of his work and have produced a collection of 21 previously unreleased recordings of his for a May 2019, posthumous release entitled, “Black and Loud.” I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover this. I’ve already compiled a “best of” playlist of Jef’s songs that I often revisit, so far, consisting of around 3 hours worth of music from his various albums. Honestly, I’m still adding to that initial list because his music has a certain kind of depth, such that a song might not resonate at first. At first blush, I’ve added 5 of the new 21 songs to my playlist, with more to come I imagine.
My personal faves are “You Are Here,” a ‘typical’ Jef Lee funk-rock-anthem, with his slick melodic insertions, just jazz enough chords, slippery-bad-ass finger-style bass playing and one of the musically/technically baddest jazz/rock/fusion guitar solos I’ve ever heard! The other immediate fave is ‘Ups Downs & In-Betweens.” Another, oh so funky, one chord, multiple guitar parts with fingered bass groove that could go on forever for all I care, but that slips into some buttery, ‘if Steely Dan were Black’ chords for the backdrop of his vocals so that he can tell the story. Then he offers a pop-like, funk-rock, teaser guitar solo that’s absolutely killer. It’s onlt a “teaser” because the solo that follows shortly after is so epic in length, content, gear-levels and technique!
I imagine that in a perfect world, as if that’s possible (or we’d ever be intelligent enough to get there), that generations from now people will have realized the powerful beauty of Jef Lee Johnson’s music and there will be schools of guitarists who have enjoyed, studied and absorbed the wonderful mysteries of his playing. But for now, I’ll keep enjoying it myself and shouting praise from my rooftop.