Category Archives: JEF LEE JOHNSON



Blue (1995)
Subversive Indie Pop/Funk

Here’s an outstanding, quietly funky pop release from Jef Lee Johnson, the hot-shot avant-blues session guitarist with a resume that includes, among others, Ronald Shannon Jackson, McCoy Tyner & Aretha Franklin. His 1995 debut, Blue, is an album of smart, blues pop that takes its cues from some oddly varied sources (Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Was Not Was). Johnson’s black roots are evident throughout, but his pop side seems to emanate from some place else all together. Give a listen to the Dan-like “A Little Too Much For Hollywood” for just one example of Johnson’s indie take on funky pop. Give special attention to the left field guitar lines (Jef Lee plays nearly every instrument). The CD was originally released on the tiny Coconut Grove label run by Peter Weatherbee, a Bill Laswell cohort. The label also issued a great CD by ex-Funkadelic guitarist, Tal Ross (HERE) the same year. Both are examples of those hidden, talent-filled gems we’re all lucky to stumble across every once in a while. Once available for pennies, now expensive @ Amazon, HERE.

Everything Starts Right Now
A Little Too Much For Hollywood
Tryin‘ Fire
Ain’t Seen Irene
Feel So Fine
Love Song
Black Sands
You Jumped The Gun, Again
Seems For No Reason
Burn Your Fields On Down
Some Dreams, Like Now
Jungle pt. II



JEF LEE JOHNSON The Zimmerman Shadow (2009)

The Zimmerman Shadow
The Blues Via Dylan

I was pre-disposed to like this album, being a big fan of guitarist Jef Lee Johnson’s debut album, Blue (HERE). His resume as a session guitarist is rich (Ronald Shannon Jackson, among others), but his releases sometimes sound more like a young popster with a blues edge than a veteran black experimenter with a gifted avant-guitar touch. The Zimmerman Shadow, an off-beat 2009 Bob Dylan covers album, is another outside-the-box release for Johnson. It sounds live in the studio, and runs the gamut from free improv to slightly jazzy renditions to near-pop expression – all cloaked in the guise of an after-hours studio jam band. Somehow, all of this sounds OK when applied to Dylan’s material. Not unlike Hendrix’s re-interpretations of Dylan’s work, Johnson takes the melodies and filters it all though his own blues sensibilities – in the end, offering a complete reinvention based on Dylan’s source code. The 8 minute, “Highway 61” has slight echoes of Hendrix, mostly in Jef Lee’s vocal phrasing, while “As I Went Out One Morning” uses the John Wesley Harding tune’s melody to anchor a moody, quiet and expansive 11 minute exploration that lapses into an improv/feedback jam. Dylan fans may or may not be amused. Johnson fans will savor this as another example of his back-handed approach to career decision-making. It’s out of print, but used copies are at Amazon, HERE.

I Am A Lonesome Hobo (5:33)
Highway 61 Revisited (8:18)
As I Went Out One Morning (11:35)
Knockin‘ On Heaven’s Door (1:35)
Idiot Wind (7:57)
Ballad Of A Thin Man (4:45)
Blind Willie McTell (5:11)
One More Cup Of Coffee (4:09)
Knockin‘ On Heaven’s Door (2:47)
From A Buick 66 (6:39)
Not Out Of The Book (0:21)
Knockin‘ On Heaven’s Door (3:44)