Lonnie Johnson was the “governor” of blues guitar in the 1920’s. His playing combined incredibly fast melodic runs with evocative blues licks. His playing was the forerunner of jazz and rock guitar. Lonnie Johnson’s playing is highly challenging, provocative and exciting. His recordings from the 1920s were highly influential among bluesmen and widely imitated. His incredible skill on the fingerboard also made him popular among jazz players. Lonnie recorded countless solo records as well as accompanying Texas Alexander, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Eddie Lang. Though he did not possess a country blues background, the New Orleans-born guitarist exemplified a high caliber of musicianship while retaining a strong feeling for the blues. His fluid single note lines and advanced flat-picking technique served as a model for early jazz guitarists and a host of Delta bluesmen.
Born and raised in New Orleans, by his late teens, Lonnie played in his father's family band at banquets and weddings, performing on guitar and violin alongside his brother James Steady Roll Johnson. Johnson eventually played jobs with jazz trumpeter Punch Miller in New Orleans' Storyville district. He also played blues on violin at the Iroquois Theatre and Pineri's in the French Quarter. Though folk blues songsters were not the most popular form of entertainment in the cultural world of New Orleans, Johnson no doubt absorbed their influence, (he worked the Storyville district from 1910-1917)