WHEREAS, next to Son House and Charley Patton, no one was more important to the development of pre-Robert Johnson Delta blues than Tommy Johnson. Armed with a powerful voice that could go from a growl to an eerie falsetto range and a guitar style that had all of the early figures and licks of the Delta style clearly delineated, Johnson only recorded for two years, from 1928 to 1930, but left behind a body of work that's hard to ignore; and
WHEREAS, there is no doubt that the music of Tommy Johnson epitomized the Mississippi Blues at its most expressive and poetic. Johnson achieved the perfection of a regional vocal and instrumental tradition, while realizing its potential for the development of a unique and personal means of communication. He was an individualist, whose sense of timing and rhythm, sensitive guitar playing and impressive vocal range were innate; and
WHEREAS, the legend of Tommy Johnson is even harder to ignore. The stories about his live performances, where he would play the guitar behind his neck in emulation of Charley Patton's showboating while hollering the blues at full throated level for hours without a break, are part of his legend, as is his uncontrolled lifestyle, which constantly got him into trouble. Then there's the crossroads story. Years before the "Deal with the Devil" at a deserted Delta crossroad was being used as an explanation of the other-worldly abilities of young Robert Johnson, the story was being told repeatedly about Tommy, often by the man himself to reinforce his abilities to doubting audiences; and
WHEREAS, his "Cool Water Blues" was covered in the 1950s by one of his early admirers, Howlin' Wolf, and became "I Asked for Water (She Brought Me Gasoline)." Another signature piece, his "Maggie Campbell," came with a chord progression that was used for infinite variations by blues player dating all the way back to his contemporary Charley Patton. Two of his best-known numbers have survived into modern times: "Big Road Blues" is probably best known to contemporary blues fans from adaptations by Floyd Jonesand others, while his "Canned Heat Blues" was the tune that gave a California blues-rock band their name; and
WHEREAS, in 1916, Tommy Johnson married Maggie Bidwell and the couple moved to Webb Jennings' Plantation near Drew, Mississippi's Yazoo Delta region close to Dockery's Plantation. Although Johnson had several wives, it was his first whom he later immortalized in his song "Maggie Campbell Blues." Johnson soon fell under the spell of Dockery resident Charley Patton and local guitarists Dick Bankston and Willie Brown. He lived there for a year, learning the nuances of the Delta style before moving on to hobo around Arkansas, Louisana and Mississippi. Johnson then moved back to Crystal Springs, Mississippi, in 1920. He also returned to life as a sharecropper, playing at parties on the weekends or on the streets of Jackson and nearby towns for tips. During the fall cotton harvest season, Johnson traveled back to the Delta, playing for sharecroppers who had just been paid. During the early 1920s, he gigged in Greenwood, Mississippi, and nearby Moorehead. The latter is famous for its railroad crossing Where the Southern Crosses the Dog, heralded in W.C. Handy's "Yellow Dog Blues"; and
WHEREAS, Tommy Johnson died of a heart attack after playing at a party on November 1, 1956. He is buried in the Warm Springs Methodist Church Cementary in Crystal Springs, Mississippi. In July 2001, the Warm Springs Cementary was designated a historically significant abandoned cementary by the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives and History; and through the efforts of interested citizens and civic leaders, this important historic cementary was restored and is now maintained; and
WHEREAS, the influence of Tommy Johnson's music is still felt both in black folk tradition and among young white musicians, who have helped spread something of his style of singing and playing blues around the world:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, That we do hereby commemorate the life and important music legacy of noted 1920s Mississippi Bluesman Tommy Johnson of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, on the 50th Anniversary of his death.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,That this resolution be forwarded to the Mississippi Blues Commission and be made available to the members of the Capital Press Corps.
ADOPTED BY THE SENATE
October 5, 2006
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR AMY TUCK
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE
SENATOR JOHN HORHN, DISTRICT 26