Jimmy Johnson brought his great guitar playing, penetrating vocals, and tight backing band into Famous Dave's for an impressive night of Chicago Blues. Touring behind his latest CD project, Two Johnsons Are Better Than One, a collaboration with his brother Syl, Jimmy proved that despite his years as a player, he still has the talent, showmanship, and enthusiasm for the blues that draws people right into his music. He kicked things off hard with a funky, choppy version of "Born Under a Bad Sign," playing short, expressive guitar licks. If you have any doubt how he earned the blues name "The Barroom Preacher" his first song let you know. His clear, expressive, penetrating tenor voice reached all the way back into the far corners of Famous Dave's and could not be ignored. Jimmy's tight, solid backing band, particularly talented guitar player Chico Banks who frequently shared lead duties with Jimmy, made for a tight, pleasing blues sound.
Jimmy changed moods and tempos effectively all night. The slow rolling, grinding blues of "Love Me or Leave Me" allowed him to showcase his soulful vocals, rich with vibrato, and his slow, subtle, expressive guitar playing. Jimmy played with his eyes closed, swaying and moving back and forth with passion as he felt the beautiful chords flowing out from his guitar. Jimmy served up "Cold, Cold Feeling" with his strong tenor ringing out on the vocals, slowly bringing up the tempo and volume on the song. The howling, snarling guitar riffs delivered by Jimmy and Chico as they traded licks back and forth built the emotion and energy of the song. But it was Jimmy with his impressive fast guitar fills, hand sliding, holding and bending guitar licks with wonderful tone that grabbed the crowd's attention.
Jimmy has plenty of attitude and confidence in his playing. "Two Headed Man" with its short, hooking beat and quick-hitting, enthusiastic guitar licks, followed by fast, expressive picking showed off all of his guitar skill. "Real MF" had attitude and energy in this funky, in your face song. Jangling, repeating chords by Jimmy and Chico and Jimmy's shouting vocals drove the song, supported all the way by the great drumming of Big Ray and bass of Jesse "Slim" Cross. Jimmy's tight rhythm section followed him seamlessly through all the changeovers, stops, and starts of this funky tune. Jimmy does a good job of letting his entire band shine, especially Chico on guitar, which adds to the ensemble sound as well as lets Jimmy deliver some great blues without having to work harder than he should.
One highlight of the evening was Jimmy's strong, expressive lead guitar on "You Don't Know What Love Is." He picked crisply, shaking his guitar for added sound, bending back and forth with passion, his vocals ringing out with passion on this soulful up-tempo blues number. Jimmy still has a great voice for the blues, as he showed on "Black Night." His powerful, drawn-out vocals that he reached deep down for were filled with strong passion on this slow rolling blues. Jimmy ended his show with a rousing, rocking version of "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane." Jimmy picked fast and sang with a strong, soulful tone, letting Chico handle lead much of the time. This energetic, up-tempo finish had the dance floor filled with sweaty, happy dancers moved by the exhortations of The Barroom Preacher. While Jimmy does not travel up here often, you can catch him playing regularly in the clubs in Chicago. He is definitely a blues legend who has the talent, experience, and fire within him to give you a great blues show.
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