Equally influential as a jazz musician and blues musician, Lonnie Johnson became one of the most popular African-American musicians of the 1920s. As a multi-instrumentalist and prolific composer, Johnson’s musical reputation landed him guest recording spots with the bands of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. 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 in a New Orleans’ residence on Rampart and Franklin streets on February 8, 1899, Alonzo “Lonnie” Johnson grew up the son of a violinist who encouraged his children to take up music. “We all played—five sisters and six brothers, mother and father,” recalled Johnson in Conversation with the Blues. 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.
Born Alonzo Johnson in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 8, 1899; died June 16, 1970; son of a musician; brother “Steady Roll” Johnson (a professional musician); married Mary Smith (a blues singer), 1925; six children.
1914-1917 worked as a violinist with family band; in 1917 went to London with a revue tour; 1920 joined Charlie Creath’s band and performed with Fate Marable; won Okeh Records talent contest 1925; made recording debut with Charlie Creath; landed hit with first Okeh recordings 1925; from 1925 to 1927 worked as a house muscian for Okeh; appeared a guest recording musician with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five; The following year guest recording musician with Duke Ellington and the Chocolate Dandies; recorded famous duets with guitarist Eddie Lang 1929; toured with Bessie Smith; settled in Cleveland and performed in band of Putney Danderidge 1932; from 1937 to 1940 worked with Warren “Baby” Dodds at Three Dueces in Chicago; recorded for Decca 1937-1938; recorded with Blue Bird label 1939-1943; recorded with King Records 1947 and landed biggest hit “Tommorow Night” in 1948; toured England 1952; worked outside of music intil redicovery in 1959; recorded with Prestige label 1960-1961 and performed at Town Hall concerts in New York; went to Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival 1963; moved to Toronto, 1965, opened own blues club in 1966; performed last show at Toronto’s Massey Hall in 1970.
“My brother, he played piano and violin and guitar, explained Johnson in Conversation With the Blues. “He was better than me.”Johnson eventually played jobs with jazz trumpeter Punch Miller in New Orleans’ Sto-ryville 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 dominate or most popular form of entertainment in the cultural world of New Orleans, Johnson no doubt absorbed their influence. “The cosmopolitan, good time ambience of New Orleans hardly lends itself to the deep blues,” explained John Broven in The Blackwell Guide to the Blues. “Inasensethesophisticated and cultured nature of city is reflected in the suave style of gentleman bluesman Lonnie Johnson.”
In 1917 Johnson traveled to London, England to perform with a revue show. Returning to new Orleans in 1919, he discovered that his family—with the exception of his brother James—had died in the Influenza epidemic of 1917. In 1920 Johnson traveled to St. Louis and, for the next two years, performed with Missouri-born trumpeter Charlie Creath’s Jazz-O-Maniacs on riverboat steamer SSSt. Paul, and on the SS Capitol with the band of Kentucky-born pianist Fate Marable, the former employer of Louis Armstrong. Guitarist Big Bill Broonzy, who first met Johnson in St. Louis during the early 1920s, recalled, in his memoir Big Bill’s Blues, the virtuosity of his New Orleans contemporary: “Lonnie was playing the violin, guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo and about all the things you could make music on, and he was good on either one he picked up and he could sing too, just as good.”
In 1924 Johnson toured with the comedy act of Clenn&Jenkins and performed with his brother James, at Katy’s Red Club in East St. Louis. He subsequently worked the TOBA circuit, and by 1925 won a talent contest at the Booker T. Washington Theatre sponsored by Okeh Records; as part of the prize he received a recording contract with the company. InNovember 1925, just prior to his own session for Okeh, he made his recording debut with Creath’s Jazz-O-Maniacs, playing violin and singing on “Won’t Don’t Blues.” Two days later, he recorded his first session for Okeh, accompanied by violinist De Louise Searcy and pianist John Arnold, turning out two numbers “Mr. Johnson’s Blues” and the hit “Falling Rain Blues.” Also at the Okeh studios he recorded with Searcy and his brother James, a session in which members of the trio each alternated between playing piano, guitar and violin.
As a house musician for Okeh, 1925-1929, Johnson cut sessions with a host of artists as well as numerous recordings under his own name. In August 1927 he took part in several New York sessions for Okeh which debuted blues singer Alger Texas” Alexander—acoun-try-bredTexas blues vocalist who sang in astyleshaped from field hollers and the chants of prison work gangs. Despite the often irregular timing of Alexander’s vocal patterns, Johnson’s melodic backing, provided able support on such numbers as “Levee Camp Moan Blues” and “Section Gang Blues.”
In October 1927, Johnson recorded with pianist John Erby, cutting “6/88 Glide,” an originally unreleased number that has, in recent years, received critical attention among jazz scholars. Composed in thirty-two bar form, “6/88 Glide,” as Marty Grosz and Lawrence Cohn wrote in the liner notes to Jazz Giants, “demonstrates the versatility that enabled [Johnson] to play blues, jazz, or pop with equal skill.” Recorded at a time when the guitar was still considered a novelty instrument, the recording illustrated Johnson’s growing contributions in the sophisticated development of jazz guitar. As Grosz and Cohn added, “After half a century ‘6/88 Glide’ can be appreciated as a pioneer effort at presenting a guitar solo.”
Two months later, in December 1927, Johnson appeared as a guest artist with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five. Paired with banjoist Johnny St. Cyr, Johnson cut four sides with the band including Lil Hardin’s “Hotter Than That” and Kid Ory’s “Savoy Blues.” In his work, Early Jazz, Gunther Schuller noted the musical and rhythmic support Johnson broughttothegroup: “Armstrong is no longer outnumbered four to one but has a strong ally. Johnson’s swinging, rhythmic backing and his remarkable two-bar exchanges with Armstrong are certainly highlights of modern jazz.” In the liner notes to Louis Armstrong: Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, Dan Morganstern described Johnson’s and Armstrong’s brilliant “break-laden” finale and cadenza on “Hotter Than That” as a jazz “masterpiece.”
Johnson’s growing musical reputation also led to a guest recording appearance with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in October 1928. Playing steel-bodied guitar on one of Ellington’s “jungle-style” numbers, “The Mooche,” he was featured in a duet with popular cabaret singer Baby Cox. In his memoir, Music is My Mistress, Duke Ellington expressed his appreciation for Johnson’s contribution to the popular success of the number: “I have always felt indebted to him because his guitar added a new luster to my adolescent orchestral attempts on records we made in 1928.”
In October of the same month, he made another guest studio appearance with the seven-member-nucleus of the Mckinney Cotton Pickers. Under the direction of arranger and multi-instrumentalist Don Redman, the band recorded under the pseudonym the Chocolate Dandies, cutting four numbers including “Stardust” and Redman’s composition “Puducah.” On the latter number Johnson takes two twelve bar solos—his fluid single lines and two-string figures briskly rising above the background horn accompaniment. Not long afterward, Johnson joined pianist Clarence Williams in backing Texas-born blues singer Victoria Spivey on a number of bawdy and sexually suggestive numbers like “Furniture Man Blues.”
In 1929 Johnson once again appeared as a guest recording artist with Louis Armstrong in an expanded orchestral setting. On Armstrong’s rendition Spencer Williams’ “Mahogany Hall Stomp,” a composition dedicated to one of New Orleans’ most notorious nightspots. In his assessment of the composition, Gunther Schuller wrote, in The Swing Era, “Lonnie Johnson contributes a special blue-ish atmosphere with his guitar solo (the kind that you could still hear in New Orleans back alleys), and underneath Louis’ solos, gentle wreaths of counterpoint.”
In 1929 Johnson teamed-up with Philadelphia-born guitarist Eddie Lang to record some of the most celebrated musical duets of the twenties. A veteran of the Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman orchestras, Lang was born Salvatore Massaro, the son of an instrument maker from Naples. Lang recorded most of his blues material under the pseudonym “Blind Willie Dunn” (on previous occasions Johnson had recorded under the name George Jefferson). Breaking the racial barriers of the period, the two guitarists— performing as a duo and with Lang’s Gin Bottle Four—formed a studio collaboration which brought forth mutual respect between the artists. In Hear Me Talkin’to Ya, Johnson recounted. “I well remember Eddie Lang. He was the nicest man I ever worked with… He never argued. He didn’t tell me what to do. He would ask me. Then, if everything was okay, we’d sit down and get to jiving.”
The two guitarists turned out dozens of titles including “Hot Fingers,” “Two Tone Stomp,” and “Handful of Riffs.” On “Bullfog Moan” Johnson’s twelve string guitar produced haunting bends and created a dynamic interplay with Langs’ open-string figures and well-executed bass lines. As Johnson noted, as quoted in Jazz Masters of the 20s, “Eddie could lay down rhythm and bass parts just like a piano. He was one of the finest guitarists I ever heard in 1928 and 1929. I think he could play anything he felt like.” Discussing the duo’s musical impact, William Barlow wrote, in Looking Up at Down, “It is unclear whether it was Johnson or Lang who first used a flat-pick to intensify his single-string guitar solos. It is clear, however, that Johnson introduced the flat-picking technique to other urban guitarists, and Lang did the same for jazz.” Johnson’s style reached both the Delta bluesmen and urban players who would adapt and develop his one string-solos into modern electric blues style.
After touring with Bessie Smith and her “Midnight Steppers” in 1929, he moved to Chicago. Recording For Okeh’s New York studio, he turned out sides accompanied by musicians such as stride pianist James P. Johnson. In 1932 Johnson left the Okeh label and settled in Cleveland, playing intermittently with the band of vocalist and singer Putney Dandridge. During his seven year stay in Cleveland, he often played on radio programs broadcasted over WJAY and WHM.
In 1937 Johnson made recordings with pianist Roosevelt Sykes and performed with Warren “Baby” Dodds at the Three Deuces in Chicago. After the Three Deuces job, Johnson formed his own trio—two guitars and a bass— and booked shows at the Plantation, The Gate, and the Boulevard Lounge. In 1937 and 1938 he recorded for Decca and, in 1939, joined the talented line-up of Lester Melrose’ Blue Bird label. For the next five years, Johnson emerged as one of Blue Bird’s best selling artists, recording thirty-four sides that included the hits “He’s a Jelly Roll Baker” and “In Love Again.” By the mid-1940s he took up electric guitar, transforming his earlier sound.
In the late 1940s Johnson took up residence in Cincinnati and after joining Syd Nathan’s Cincinnati-based King label, scored his biggest hit with “To-morrow Night” in 1948. A ballad, “Tomorrow Night,” with its triplet piano accompaniment lush background singers, bore little resemblance to the majority of Johnson’s blues and jazz material. Though a hit record kept his name in the limelight, over the next few years Johnson still had to take occasional work outside music.
In 1952 Johnson embarked on a eleven-month-tour of England. Back in America he stayed briefly in Cincinnati before moving to Philadelphia. By the time Samuel Charters’ The Country Blues was published in 1959, Johnson had fallen into obscurity, and was believed to be living in Cincinnati. In his book Charters stated “[Johnson’s] name is almost unknown to the young colored audience that still occasionally buys blues records.” That same year, Danish-born jazz critic and disc jockey Chris Albertson rediscovered Johnson in Philadelphia. During his radio show, Albertson made an inquiry concerning the whereabouts of the legendary guitarist. Shortly afterward, he received a call from a man who informed him that he worked as a janitor with Johnson at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia. Albertson then recorded Johnson in an informal session at his apartment and sent the demo to Bob Weinstock of the Prestige label. Backed by a quartet, including saxophone, Johnson cut the Prestige LP Blues by Lonnie Johnson. Evoking a sense of humor about the vagaries of his career, Johnson commented, in the album’s liner notes, “I’ve been dead four of five times. But I always come back.” The day following the session he went back to his janitorial job at the Ben Franklin. Never one to regret his years of hard work, Johnson later told Paul Oliver, Conversations With the Blues, “I’ve done all kinds of work , even been a coal miner—Oh God yes, I’ve done everything!”
In 1960 and 1961, Johnson performed at the Town Hall concerts in New York City, and in 1963 traveled to Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival, an all-star tour which included Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams, and former musical associate Victoria Spivey (with whom Johnson had been reunited on a job in New York City two years previous). In Europe he recorded with pianist Otis Spann in Denmark and with the Fontana label in Bremen, Germany.
By 1965 Johnson took up residence in Toronto, Canada, and within the next year opened his own nightclub, The Home of the Blues Club. Throughout the decade he recorded and played local clubs in Canada as well as embarking on several regional tours. While he was window shopping on a Toronto street in 1969, a car jumped the curb and hit Johnson. This accident, followed by several strokes, forced him to limit his musical activities. Not long after his last live appearance with bluesman Buddy Guy at Toronto’s Massey Hall, he died of a stroke on June 16, 1970 at the age of eighty-one.
An inspirational figure to both blues and jazzmen, Johnson left an indelible mark on modern American music. In the span of forty years, he made nearly five hundred recordings. His impact on the blues was reflected in the sentiments of B.B. King who stated, in Blues Guitar. “I was able to go and see one of my idols, Lonnie Johnson, and I was able to shake his hand and thank him. Because he was one of the people that made me want to play.” Perhaps Johnson’s finest tribute, however, came from Duke Ellington who stated his memoir, Music Is My Mistress, “[Johnson] must have must have been a good man, because he spoke only good about other people, and I never heard anyone speak anything but good of him. God bless Lonnie Johnson.”
Blues by Lonnie Johnson, Prestige.
Tomorrow Night, Lonnie Johnson, King, 1976.
The Blues of Lonnie Johnson, Swaggie (Australia).
Blues and Ballads, Fantasy, 1990.
Lonnie Johnson: Steppin’ On the Blues, Columbia, 1990.
Lonnie Johnson Sings 24 Twelve Bar Blues, Fantasy, 1991.
Lonnie Johnson: He’s a Jelly Roll Baker, RCA, 1992.
The Complete Folkways Recordings, Smithsonian/Folkways, 1993.
Lonnie Johnson: Stompin’ at the Penny With Jim McHarg’s Metro Stompers, Columbia, 1994.
Jazz Guitar 1925-1932, Yazoo.
Pioneers of the Jazz Guitar, Yazoo.
Giants of Jazz: The Guitarists, Time Life Records, 1980.
Bluesmen and Songsters (1926-1936), RST.
Bluesville, Volume 1: Folk Blues, Ace.
Singin’ The Blues, MCA.
Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts&Lollypops, Columbia, 1991.
Don Redman Doin’ What I Please, ASV Living Era, 1993.
Louis Armstrong: Portrait as an Artist as a Young Man, Columbia, 1994.
The King R&B Box Set, King, 1995.
Barlow, William, Looking up at Down: The Emergence of Blues Culture Temple University Press, 1989.
Big Bills’ Blues: William Broonzy’s Story as Told to Yannick Bruynoghe, Da Capo, 1964.
Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made The Music. From the Pages of Guitar Player Magazine (expanded &updated second edition), Miller Freeman Books, 1993.
Charters, Samuel B., The Country Blues (second edition), Da Capo, 1975.
Ellington, Edward Kennedy, Music is My Mistress, Da Capo, 1973.
Hadlock, Richard, Jazz Masters of the 20s, Da Capo, 1988.
Oliver, Paul. Conversation With the Blues, Horizon Press, 1965.
Schuller, Gunther, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, Oxford University Press, 1968.
Shapiro Nat, and Nat Hentoff, Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told to The Men Who Made It, Dover Publications, 1955.
The Blackwell Guide to the Blues Records, edited by Paul Oliver,Blackwell Reference, 1989.
Additional information for this profile was provided by the liner notes from Lonnie Johnson: He’s a Jelly Roll Baker, RCA, 1992, by Billy Altman; Blues by Lonnie Johnson, Prestige, by David B. Gitten; and Jazz Giants: The Guitarists, Time Life Records, 1980, by Marty Grosz and Lawrence Cohn.
Cohassey, John. "Johnson, Lonnie." Contemporary Musicians. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (September 26, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3493500044.html
Cohassey, John. "Johnson, Lonnie." Contemporary Musicians. 1997. Retrieved September 26, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3493500044.html
When music lovers talk about the great figures of the blues, their neglect of guitarist and vocalist Lonnie Johnson is puzzling. Johnson's career spanned much of the history of the blues, from the beginnings of the genre to its revival in the 1960s, and he contributed important innovations to many stages of the music along the way. In the minds of blues musicians themselves, there was no doubt about Johnson's importance. "You can see people copying him right and left," slide guitarist Ry Cooder told Jas Obrecht of Guitar Player. The blues guitar giant told Obrecht: "I was crazy about Lonnie Johnson. Lonnie was so versatile."
Musical versatility was the hallmark of Johnson's hometown, New Orleans. His early background is uncertain, but many historians agree that he was born Alonzo Johnson on February 8, 1894. One of 12 children, he grew up in the same general area of central New Orleans that was home to many of the pioneers of jazz. Johnson's father was a musician, and from a very early age Johnson picked up a variety of instruments—not only guitar, but also violin, mandolin, banjo, bass, and piano. He played in his father's band and contributed to the family income by playing whatever style of music might bring in a few dollars, which in New Orleans could mean anything from the classics to banging away on a piano in a house of ill repute.
Became Musical Ambassador
Often working with his brother, James "Steady Roll" Johnson, he became a successful musician in New Orleans. And when the rest of the world became curious about the new music called jazz that was being born in the city, Johnson became one of New Orleans's first musical ambassadors. He joined a group that toured England in 1917, possibly performing for American servicemen during World War I. When he returned home, he found out that almost all of his family members had died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. "I got to ramblin' after that," he was quoted as saying by Obrecht. "I couldn't keep my feet still, so I just started travelin'." His brother had survived the epidemic, and they traveled around performing as a duo. By 1921 they had landed in St. Louis. Like New Orleans jazzman Louis Armstrong, they performed on the river-boats that plied the Mississippi.
By the mid-1920s, the blues were becoming popular on recordings, as the major labels of the day became aware of the purchasing power of African Americans who had come to America's big cities and found work. Johnson won a contest at the Booker Washington Theater in St. Louis, and took home a recording contract with the OKeh label as his prize. Johnson recorded not only on guitar but also on violin, banjo, kazoo, and harmonium, and he and his brother backed several of the era's flamboyant female vocalists. Johnson claimed that the Queen of the Blues herself, Bessie Smith, had flirted with him. During the 1920s Johnson was married to the former Mary Smith; the two had six children, but were divorced in 1932. If there was a style that taxed Johnson, it was the rhythmically irregular country blues, which was at odds with his own urban background. Johnson often accompanied rural bluesman Texas Alexander but complained (according to Obrecht) that "When you been out there with him, you done nine days' work in one."
Word of Johnson's talents got back to OKeh executives, and his career moved to a higher level. He was called to Chicago, where he recorded with his New Orleans compatriot Louis Armstrong, and then to New York. Johnson's OKeh recordings of the late 1920s rank among his best known. He often recorded funny, slyly sexual duets with the leading New York City blues singers of the day. A good example was the two-part "Toothache Blues" (it took up both sides of a 78 rpm record), featuring Victoria Spivey as a woman who sang of an ache that only Johnson's expert hands could cure.
Johnson also excelled in purely instrumental pieces, some of which he recorded with the white jazz guitarist Eddie Lang (born Salvatore Massaro). Much of Johnson's music featured experimental improvisations that would fall under the category of jazz rather than blues today, but the 1920s were less concerned with strict genre boundaries. Johnson and Lang inspired each other on such complex pieces as "Have to Change Keys to Play These Blues" (1928). These recordings were among the first in history to feature black and white musicians performing together, but Lang was billed as Blind Willie Dunn to disguise the fact. European releases credited the artists accurately.
Created the Guitar Solo
Beyond the harmonic innovations of the duets he recorded with Lang, it is possible that the entire idea of a song with a featured guitar solo is traceable to Johnson's immense influence. According to blues historian Gérard Herzhaft in the book Encyclopedia of the Blues, Johnson was "undeniably the creator of the guitar solo (played note by note with a pick) which has become the standard in jazz, blues, country, and rock." Johnson was certainly in a position to be heard widely; by the end of the Roaring Twenties he was touring widely in vaudeville houses owned by the RKO and T.O.B.A. (Theater Owners' Booking Association, colloquially known as Tough on Black Asses) chains, and a new Johnson recording appeared in stores every six weeks. His guitar, more often than not, was the difficult 12-stringed instrument. Between 1925 and 1932 he made about 130 recordings.
The Great Depression stopped Johnson cold, as it did many other artists. For five years he made a living outside music, working at one point in a steel mill in Peoria, Illinois. By the late 1930s, however, he was performing in Chicago and recording for Decca. The city was in the early stages of becoming the urban blues capital of the world, and Johnson was paired with the influential blues pianists Roosevelt Sykes and Blind John Davis, among others. Blues guitar king Muddy Waters remembered him as a performer who could easily fill a club in the early days of Chicago blues. In 1939, during a session made for the Bluebird label with pianist Josh Altheimer, Johnson used an electric guitar for the first time. During World War II, Johnson worked his way west with a series of one-nighters beginning in Detroit and ending on the West Coast.
Transitioned to Electric Sound
Johnson successfully made the transition to the new electric rhythm-and-blues sound after the war. He recorded for several small labels and then for the highly successful Cincinnati independent King, notching a major hit with "Tomorrow Night" in 1948. With reported sales of three million copies, the song was probably Johnson's single biggest hit. Basically, though, the big sounds of electric blues were unsuited to Johnson's precise and subtly sophisticated style, and he gradually dropped out of music once again in the 1950s. When the young blues enthusiast Chris Albertson found him in 1959, he was working as an elevator attendant at Philadelphia's Ben Franklin Hotel.
The folk revival of the 1960s, which encompassed the blues, brought Johnson's career the last of its nine lives. He appeared with Victoria Spivey at the popular folk club Gerdes Folk City in New York in 1961, and recorded a new album with her. Johnson toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival group show and recorded an album with Otis Spann in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1963. In 1965, the 71-year-old Johnson landed a series of dates in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and decided to stay on there. He opened a club of his own, Home of the Blues, in 1966. In 1969 he was hit by a car; though he couldn't play the guitar after that accident, he continued to perform on vocals. His health declined, and he died in Toronto on June 16, 1970. Coming at the height of the rock era, with young guitarists interested mostly in the Mississippi Delta country bluesmen and their Chicago descendants, his death drew little comment. By the turn of the twenty-first century, however, with interest growing in the many varieties of the blues that flourished in different sectors of African-American society, his historical reputation was sharply on the rise.
For the Record . . .
Born Alonzo Johnson on February 8, c. 1894, in New Orleans, LA; died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, June 16, 1970; married Mary Smith, 1925 (divorced, 1932); children: six.
Performed with father's band in New Orleans; per formed in New Orleans Storyville district as young man; toured England with revue, 1917; moved to St. Louis, MO; performed on riverboats; began recording, 1925; recorded with Louis Armstrong; moved to New York; accompanied top blues vocalists, late 1920s; recorded with jazz guitarist Eddie Lang, 1928; worked in steel mill during Depression; moved to Chicago; recorded for Decca and Bluebird labels, late 1930s and early 1940s; recorded for King label and notched hit "Tomorrow Night," 1948; worked as elevator operator, late 1950s; performed and recorded with Victoria Spivey, early 1960s; performed at Gerdes Folk City, New York, 1961; toured and recorded with American Folk Blues Festival, 1963; moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1966; opened House of Blues club.
Complete Folkways Recordings, Folkways, 1967.
The Originator of Modern Guitar Blues, Blues Boy, 1980.
Woke Up This Morning, Blues in My Fingers: Vocals and Instrumentals, 1927-1932, Original Jazz, 1980.
Steppin' on the Blues, Columbia Legacy, 1990.
Complete Recorded Works (1925-1932), 7 vols., Document, 1991.
Complete 1937 to June 1947 Recordings, 3 vols., Document.
Blues in My Fingers, The Essential Recordings of Lonnie Johnson, Indigo, 1995.
The Essential Lonnie Johnson, Classic Blues, 2001.
Playing with the Strings, Snapper, 2004.
The Original Guitar Wizard, Proper, 2005.
The Very Best of Lonnie Johnson, Collectables, 2005.
Harris, Sheldon, Blues Who's Who, Da Capo, 1981.
Herzhaft, Gérard, Encyclopedia of the Blues, trans. Brigitte Debord, University of Arkansas Press, 1997.
Guitar Player, September 1993, pp. 48, 62; November 2000, p. 114.
National Review, July 19, 1993, p. 63.
"Alfonzo 'Lonnie' Johnson," Red Hot Jazz, http://www.redhotjazz.com/ljohnson.html (June 30, 2005).
"Lonnie Johnson," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 30, 2005).
—James M. Manheim
"Johnson, Lonnie." Contemporary Musicians. 2006. Encyclopedia.com. (September 26, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3443700042.html
"Johnson, Lonnie." Contemporary Musicians. 2006. Retrieved September 26, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3443700042.html