Big Jack Johnson "The Oil Man"
July 30, 1940 to March 14, 2011
Rest in Peace
March 14, 2011 - Sad news came in from Dave Riley and Amy Brat that legendary Mississippi guitarist/mandolinist/vocalist Big Jack Johnson has passed away this morning at 6am in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi after a long battle with heath issues. He was 70 years old. Note that there were some disturbing premature false announcements of Big Jack's passing 3 days before his actual passing.
Photo Collage Courtesy of Panny Mayfield
Big Jack's inventive, energetic, Delta-rooted guitar, rich confident vocals, down home songwriting, and larger than life stage presence made him one of the most celebrated bluesmen of Mississippi. His long music career included much national and international touring, many amazing record releases, and a huge amount of praise and respect. Big Jack was born in Lambert, Mississippi in the summer of 1940, and learned guitar from his father at age 13.
He rose to prominence in the early 1960s working as a key member of the legendary Jelly Roll Kings, a champion blues band which also included Frank Frost and Sam Carr. Big Jack first appeared on record in the 1960s as the guitarist on two famous Frank Frost albums; Hey Boss Man on the Phillips International label (an offshoot of Sun Records) from 1962, and My Back Scratcher on Jewel from 1966.
In the late 1970s, Michael Frank debuted his Earwig Music label with The Jelly Roll Kings / Rockin' The Juke Joint Down which also was a recording debut for Big Jack's great vocals. Soon afterward, Big Jack Johnson would start a solo career for himself, independent of the Jelly Roll Kings.
His solo debut album, Oil Man (Big Jack used to hold down a day gig delivering oil barrels in Mississippi) on the Earwig label was released in 1987. This led to additional CDs for Earwig, a nice run with M.C. Records, and additional recordings for Rooster Blues, P-Vine Records, Right Coast Recording, and Big Jack Music. There was also a nice Jelly Roll Kings reunion album called Off Yonder Wall that came out in 1997 on the Fat Possum Records. Additionally, Big Jack appeared in the influential 1992 documentary movie Deep Blues.
He was a popular festival and club entertainer, a warm and hospitable person, and an amazing musician. Big Jack Johnson was the last original member of the Jelly Roll Kings.
His passing leaves a gap in the blues that will never again be filled. To see his amazing performance of "Catfish Blues" from the movie Deep Blues, click here.
Thanks for all the great music Big Jack. You are loved!
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Museum Contact information
Clarksdale, MS 38614