|Shirley Johnson - Blues Attack|
By Willard Manus
Wish I had known about Shirley Johnson the last time I visited Chicago as I would have made a beeline to catch her in action at Blue Chicago, the North Side club where she has been a weekly fixture for the past seventeen years. Instead, I've had to settle for second best--an introduction to her via a new CD, SHIRLEY JOHNSON--BLUES ATTACK, which Delmark Records has just released.
Johnson was born in Norfolk, where she grew up singing gospel, but she made the natural transition to blues when she emigrated to Chicago in 1983. After gigging around for a decade, she found a home at Blue Chicago which has also been a springboard to a recording career. She released her first full-length CD in 2000, Looking For Love on the Appaloosa label; it was followed in 2002 by Delmark's best-selling Killer Diller. Johnson is also a popular performer at domestic and international blues festivals.
It's easy to see why people like her. She sings with power and pizzazz, in a voice that's deeply rooted in the blues. She favors strong, sassy songs, many of which were written for her by Maurice John Vaughn. BLUES ATTACK showcases her vocal gifts on fourteen generous cuts which are divided between slow and uptempo numbers. Johnson is backed up by her own tight, hard-driving band,
which consists of pianist Roosevelt "The Mad Hatter" Purifoy, guitarist Luke Pytel, bassplayer JR Fuller Jr., and drummer Cordell Teague.
Joining them on various cuts are such standout Chicago musicians as Lawrence Fields, Herb Walker, Kenny Anderson, Hank Ford and Willie Henderson. Even the backup singers on BLUES ATTACK are superb: Billy D. Richard, Roberta Thomas and Danielle Smith.
Johnson herself contributed to the lyrics on "You Shouldn't Have Been There," a defiant message to an ex-boyfriend who caught her making love ("with her black drawers down") to another man. Rather than apologize for her behavior, she boasts of getting it on with the new lover and orders the ex to "quit sneakin' in and out of my back door." Find a life of your own, she adds, because "our love can never be the same."
If you're going to be dumped, let it be the bold, forthright Shirley Johnson way.