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Moore, Johnny B. 1950–

Johnny B. Moore 1950

Blues singer, guitarist

Transformed from Factory Worker to Musician

Recorded Unusual Mississippi Repertoire

Live Album Recorded in Basement

Selected discography

Sources

Blues music has both urban and rural aspects: born in the plantations and sharecroppers fields of Mississippi, the music moved north to Chicago and other northern cities. In the music of some of its greatest practitioners, the blues have seemed to tell a tale of migration, of a displaced people coming to terms with a hard life in a new place. The music of Johnny B. Moore, a contemporary Chicago blues player, maintains strong links to the first-generation Chicago music of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, and their contemporaries, who came north from the Mississippi River Delta. When Moore performs, blues fans flock to Chicago clubs to hear music that sounds much like what might have been played in the 1960s in a blues bar on the South or West sides of the city.

On January 24, 1950, Johnny Belle Moore was, as the title of one of his album releases proclaimed, born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which is located squarely in the middle of the Mississippi Delta region. Moores musical talent began to be noticed shortly after his Baptist minister father, Floyd Moore, began teaching him to play the guitar at age seven. The first piece he learned to play was John Lee Hookers Boogie Chillen, and as a youngster he also admired and was influenced by the style of guitarist Magic Sam. Another early influence was gospel music: Moore performed in Clarksdale with the Spiritual Harmonism and Soul Revival gospel groups, and even after moving to Chicago he continued to perform church music with a group called the Gospel Keys.

Transformed from Factory Worker to Musician

Moore followed his father north to Chicago in 1964, bringing the blues sounds of the Delta with him. He learned to read music while attending high school in Chicago. Another aspect of his musical education was a series of record-listening sessions with Letha Jones, the widow of blues pianist Johnny Jones. In the late 1960s Moore found work in a lamp factory, but he continued to play the blues after working hours. Sometimes he performed with Jimmy Reed, whom he had met in Clarksdale when he was eight years old, and he played with the Charles Spiers band and other groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Moores transformation from factory worker to full-time blues musician became complete in 1975 when he became lead guitarist of the Blues Machine, the band of rough-voiced singer Koko Taylor. The job gave him the credibility to work smaller clubs as the head-liner of a trio, but in the rough-and-tumble world of the blues, that wasnt always a good thing. Moore told Metromix.com writer Kevin McKeough that he had once played in a place called the Domino Lounge over on Roosevelt and Western. It was owned by a man called Iron Joe, he got killed in that place the same night we was working there. Things brightened a bit when Moore began to record with Taylor, and his lead guitar style can be heard on her 1978 album The Earthshaker.

At a Glance

Born Johnny Belle Moore on January 24, 1950, in Clarksdale, MS; son of Floyd Moore (a Baptist minister).

Career: Dropped out of school to work in a lamp factory, mid-1960s; performed evenings in bands of Jimmy Reed, Charles Spiers, and others, early 1970s; joined Koko Taylors band, Blues Machine, 1975; formed own trio, 1975; toured widely with Taylor and with Willie Dixon, including five European tours; released solo debut, Hard Times, 1987; recorded for Delmark label (Chicago), and Wolf label (Vienna, Austria), 1990s; released album Live at Blue Chicago, 1996; released Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, 2001; appeared at Chicago Bluesfest, 2002.

Address: Label Delmark Records, 4121 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL 60618.

Touring with Taylor and later with guitarist Willie Dixon, Moore began to play in safer environments. He went on three European tours with Taylor and two with Dixon, in whose band he served until Dixons death in 1992. Back in Chicago, Moore welcomed the more sedate atmosphere he found in the citys blues clubs. Its much better, the people appreciate you more, he told McKeough. Back then, they didnt have any respect for you, theyd get to fighting and knock your stuff over. Just to get those few dollars, thats what Id have to do.

Recorded Unusual Mississippi Repertoire

As an increasingly identifiable fixture on the Chicago blues scene, Moore appeared on his own more and more often. His first album, Hard Times, appeared in 1987 on the B.L.U.E.S. label marketed by à local nightclub; it was praised by the Down Home Guide to the Blues as a fine debut album featuring some good originals along with some impressive updatings of a couple of songs from the 30s. Both on recordings and in his live performances, Moore drew on a songbag filled during his early years with unusual and fascinating items from the pre-Chicago years of the blues.

In the 1990s Moore recorded five more albums of his own and appeared on several compilations including: Johnny B. Moore (1996), Live at Blue Chicago (1996), and Troubled World (1997) for Chicagos Delmark label, and 911 Blues (1997) and Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi (2001) for the Wolf label in Austria. Reviewers praised Moores stylistic versatility and his ability to evoke the Delta sound in an electric context. Moore clearly knows what the blues is about, wrote Guitar Player of Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and he could easily teach upcoming blues wunderkinds a lesson or two about feel.

European blues historian Gérard Herzhaft concurred, noting that [Moores] albums reflect a strong Delta flavor that is refreshing in the present blues scene, dominated by rock or funk overtones. Some critics have found Moores live performances wooden in comparison with those of flashy musicians such as Buddy Guy. The website Lycos.com complained that Moore conducts himself with undue restraint, and the Chicago Reader, while praising Moores dexterity, imagination, and taste on the guitar, commented that his singing is stiff, and so is his stage presence, which explains why hes never transcended journeyman status despite his stellar chops.

Live Album Recorded in Basement

The Live at Blue Chicago album, recorded in a club basement, featured Moore in largely acoustic or lightly amplified arrangements of classic blues pieces and Moore originals, but even in a fully electric setting the Delta flavor of Moores playing was clearly evident. He often used a bottleneck in his guitar improvisations, and his guitar playing was filled with evocations of Mississippi and Chicago blues masters such as Dixon, Waters, Howlin Wolf, Elmore James, and others.

Moores solo activities in the early 2000s included an appearance at the Chicago Bluesfest in 2002 and numerous appearances on albums by other blues artists. If Johnny B. Moore isnt a star in the making, argued the All Music Guides Bill Dahl, theres no justice in the world. Moores progress to the top levels of the blues world has been gradual, but aficionados already know that by listening closely to his performances and recordings they can peel back and examine many of the layers that the blues have accumulated since the music was born.

Selected discography

Hard Times, B.L.U.E.S., 1987.

Lonesome Blues (Chicago Blues Session No. 5), Wolf, 1993.

Johnny B. Moore, Delmark, 1996.

Live at Blue Chicago, Delmark, 1996.

Troubled World, Delmark, 1997.

911 Blues, Wolf, 1997.

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Wolf, 2001.

Sources

Books

Harris, Sheldon, Blues Whos Who, repr. ed., Da Capo, 1991.

Herzhaft, Gérard, Encyclopedia of the Blues, trans. Brigitte Debord, University of Arkansas Press, 1992.

Rucker, Leland, ed., MusicHound Blues: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink, 1998.

Scott, Frank, Down Home Guide to the Blues, Down Home Music, 1991.

Periodicals

Down Beat, September 1996, p. 57.

Guitar Player, May 2002, p. 132.

On-line

All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com

Chicago Reader, http://www.chireader.com/music/sidebars.BLUESFEST2002.html

Delmark, http://www.delmark.com/delmark688.htm

Metromix, http://metromix.com

Lycos, http://music.lycos.com

James M. Manheim

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