Bruce Mississippi Johnson
No Good is available via:
The album, The Deal Baby, is available at:
THERE is so much variation in music that….
one day, I can look at a legendary, Mississippi-based Blues artist – the next, a London-based Pop/Electro duo. I will look at the energised and vivacious girls of MissDefiant tomorrow but, right now, an artist I have not come across before. I shall look at his music but, before I do, I wanted to address a few things. For one, I shall look at Blues and the genre in general; artists in Mississippi and the range of music one finds between states; relocation and how a life can evolve and change – a nod to those artists that seem to be the ‘complete package’. Whether one puts the Mississippi part if Bruce Johnson’s name or not (there are sites and sources that do), I am going to keep him as purely Bruce Mississippi Johnson. In my blog; there are few occasions when I get to look at Blues artists and what is happening in the scene. Johnson mixes other sounds but one hears an artist who sources from legends of the past. He has some soul in the sounds and, if one imagines a blend of Jackie Wilson and Al Green – with some of the Blues legends thrown in – you’d be somewhere near hitting the mark. I shall come to address influence soon but, right now, it seems important to look at Soul and Blues in modern music. There has been a lot of talk about various genres and their dominance in music. I hear a lot of Pop music out there and certain other genres are starting to make their names heard – Hip-Hop and Rap among them. I am a little late to the joys of Bruce Mississippi Johnson’s latest track but, in a way, it provides a chance to give it a proper listen and investigate it months down the line. The track arrived a few months ago but, owing to a heavy schedule, it is only now I have been able to tackle it. I feel genres like Soul and Blues rely on a sense of tease and build-up.
They do not need you to absorb it all at once and sit back and enjoy – come back and experience various parts of a song when you wish. That is the case with Johnson’s latest song. It is a piece that has romance and contrasts but has a depth and beauty that requires proper appreciation and involvement. Right now, there are not many known Soul and Blues artists playing in the U.K. One might bring in names like Sam Smith but he is an exception. Even he mixes in Pop and does not play it pure and unfettered. If you want to encounter an artist who keeps Blues and Soul pure then you have to dive deep into the depths of music. I feel certain genres get pushed down and not provided adequate oxygen. There is such a dependence on what we are fed and what is seen as ‘popular’. Jazz is another genre that struggles and, whilst there are few modern Jazz artists penning their own music, there are enough to intrigue and celebrate. The same can be said for Blues and Soul artists. Many feel they need to splice other sounds in so they are popularised and seen. It is a sad state when musicians feel they are excluded and overlooked. Music as we know it stems from Blues: Soul is the most passionate form of experience and has produced legends like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. These artists, alongside Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, could blend the ethics and stories of 1930s/1940s Blues with the raw and exhilarating rush of Soul. Bruce Mississippi Johnson would have heard these kind of musicians and been struck by their vivacity, electricity and passion. It is hard describing his sound but it does seem to sprinkle the Soul and Blues genres – bringing them into the modern age but not abandoning their roots. That authenticity and appreciation for older music is a gamble in a culture where we want modern and of-the-moment sounds. An otherworldly, older-days beauty can be heard in his music. I am concerned we neglect various genres because they are not seen as cool and happening.
There are some wonderful Blues artists who are modern and captivating and current. They bring the style to the current day but retain the beating heart of the genre. The same is true of Soul: a lot of wonderful artists that deserve attention. Check out artists like (American) Leon Bridges to get an idea of what is happening in Soul right now. It is interesting looking at how our current examples do not abandon the past and unite that with a contemporary and personal aspect. Many other genres seem to lose sight of where they came from and the musicians that brought it to their ears. Bruce Mississippi Johnson hails, unsurprisingly, from Mississippi and would have learned a lot from the state. Mississippi, one might assume, would be restricted to older sounds and Blues, perhaps. We often project that image but, in reality, it is a fulsome and eclectic part of the world. From Punk and Pop to Rock – artists like Dead Gaze and The Jag have connections to the state. Maybe areas such as New York and L.A. gain more press but American music cannot be refined to and defined by the big cities/states. If you want a better impression of the country and what makes it such a strong and fascinating musical nation then you need to travel further afield. Mississippi has always played a relevant role in American music and, from past decades to the present time, produced some stunning musicians. Robert Johnson, the legendary Blues pioneer, hailed from Mississippi. Cities like Jackson are revealing some hot young bands and it seems a shame the U.S. media seems to limit its imagination to more obvious parts of the nation. Perhaps it is not a shock Bruce Mississippi Johnson has come to London – where there are more chances – but I have been doing some research into Mississippi music and there is a great mix. There are a lot of cover bands but, of the original artists, there are some terrific modern/mainstream hopes and those who retain the spirit of the state.
Holy Springs’ Cedric Burnside is the grandson of the Delta juke-joint Blues legends R.L. Burnside. His music incorporates Rap and Pop but there is something pure and dedicated about Burnside. He retains the purity of his grandfather and keeps his spirit alive through sensationally immersive tracks. Dead Gaze (with ties to Oxford) have released a series of Psychedelic/lo-fi songs through the years and have that D.I.Y. ethic. They contrast artists like R.L. Burnside and are among the most exciting and promising acts from Mississippi. The Jag, like Burnside, is keen to preserve the old styles and ways of Mississippi. They formed in 2002 and, since then, the Jackson group have gone through various line-ups and stages. Restarting in 2011; their music has a retro Southern sound that brings in Psychedelia and experimentation together with good ol’ shades of the state. One looks at the biggest current artists of Mississippi and, looks-wise, there are few that contradict the stereotypes we have. Perhaps that is a good thing but Rosco Bandana are a septet that started their life in a tobacco store – when Jason Sanford went in to buy cigarettes (defying his Christian upbringing). The clerk there mentioned names like Iron and Wire and, when Sanford started jamming with Barry Pribyl – things got kicking and the project started its life. It is a very old-school, Southern vibe of America but one that has created a fantastic band. From that Gulfport collective to a stripped duo from Jackson. Spacewolf, as we might perceive certain folk from Mississippi, are not decked in finery and sartorial elegance. The boys prefer a T-shirt and recorded their 2010 eponymous debut to modest acclaim. The guys have, in the past, recorded through a homemade microphone – built from an N.Y.C. payphone receiver and beer can – and have that rustic, rural charm. Jackson’s The Weeks came together in 2006 are an Indie-Rock band that unite Southern Rock and Grunge. They signed to Kings of Leon’s Serpent and Snake Records and have been making an impression in the state since then. It appears there is a culture and scene worth digging – Bruce Mississippi Johnson would have learned a lot whilst there.
He is in London now and, far from assimilating too wholly and abandoning where he came from, he is adding his unique voice to a city that lacks proficient knowledge of Soul and Blues. London seems to current and limited. That seems strange for a massive city but it is still the case that minor genres are pushed to the outside. The record labels and big radio stations spend very little time uncovering the finest artists in Blues and Soul. I am disappointed this is the case but I suppose areas like New York would be the same - I imagine they are more concerned with the cool and current. Johnson has featured in magazines such as Soul Bag and has a loyal following here, He has appeared on BBC radio and received a lot of love from the people here. I worry we are too beholden to what is heard in the charts and not making inroads to other styles of music. It is a shame we consider Blues and Soul to be part of the past – with very little contemporary importance. Music has only come this far because of those genres so we should not be ignorant of their place and history. London is a great place for Johnson to play because he has more opportunity to shine. Great venues, various radio stations and big crowds can be found in the capital. If one wants to experience music that has more depth and meaning than most of the mainstream’s ‘best’ – they could do far worse than spend some time with Bruce Mississippi Johnson. He has brought a lot from Mississippi and learned a great deal when there. It would not have been practical to remain there. Fewer opportunities for him to get his music to the masses. I guess the same is true of the U.K. and U.S. to an extent: media and the influential will allows gravitate to the city. Perhaps areas like New York were not a good fit and did not give the same excitement and comfort as London. I know for a fact there are many wonderful musicians in London who have a real connection with Blues and Soul.
IN THIS PHOTO: Johnson alongside Gaby Roslin
Although quite a few integrate them into other genres – Johnson is someone who is capable of adapting and camouflaging other genres into his sound. I love how Johnson keeps his music pure and uncompromising. He would have been raised on a diet of those Blues legends and the Soul kings and queens. He has his ear to the ground and aware of the modern best and biggest – a concoction of the classic and current. Bruce Mississippi Johnson has been speaking to London stations and ensuring songs like No Good – and his album, The Deal Baby – have struck new ears. One need only look at him to know there are few contemporaries. He cuts an imposing figure but is lovable and down-to-earth. He is easy to chat to but, at the same time, I would not pick a fight with him. As I will talk about; he has a marine background and is someone who has had a vivid time of things. That is not to say he is a brawler and fighter: the man was in the forces and had ia past that differs to where he is now. I am not explaining that well but the fact is Johnson is a fascinating figure that stands out from the boring and blend alternatives. There is a lot about him that fits into the ethos and history of Blues. A lot of the genre’s key figures has unconventional and interesting pasts. A sense of history, legacy and richness stems from the blood and bones of Johnson. He has a natural home here and a lot more room to manoeuvre and campaign. I know he will go from strength-to-strength because there is a rarity and need for his music. London still focuses too much on mainstream tastes: acts like Bruce Mississippi Johnson are needed n order to add colour and contrast to the masses. We do not have many like him and there is a distinct need for his music. I am a fan of Blues and Soul and feel there is a need to assimilate it into the London scene. What is fascinating about Johnson’s role in London is his humanity and Southern manners.
That might seem like a strange suggestion but there is something compassionate and dignified about Johnson. Few London artists have such a courage, heart and sense of humanity. That could be perceived as cruel and stereotyping but Johnson has been involved raising awareness and compassion for the victims of Grenfell. When the fire hit – and lives were lost – he was among many who spoke up and took action. With fellow artist, Omar, he raised money for the victims and was eager to have his say. That is admiral because, in my view, more musicians needed to get involved. The fact he is American – and has not been in London THAT many years – means he could have sat back and has a rather casual attitude to things. That is not how he is raised and one can trace his upbringing and sense of community to the fact he was deeply involved and passionate – raising funds and speaking out against the atrocities. I know there are many compassionate artists in London but few that have the same qualities as Johnson. A rare specimen that brings together his experiences and various travels into a fascinating and enigmatic personality. London is doing him a lot of good and he is injecting U.S. Blues and Soul into a scene that desperately needs it. From his early years in the Deep South; Johnson began life singing at his grandfather’s church. He gained a love and knowledge of Soul and Gospel music and found a sense of purity and love in the songs he experienced there. The rouse, spirit and togetherness in the church resonated and enforced his following years. Complimented with exposure to Al Green, Jackie Wilson and Gil Scott-Heron – Johnson was introduced to a world of wonderful and classic Soul/Blues greats. The stocky and tall U.S. Marine cuts a dashing figure but, with that tenderness and soulfulness, mixed it into the blend and became a rounded and tantalising personality. Not many have the same contrast and attributes. After Johnson left the Marines; he travelled to Paris and involved himself in the Parisian Jazz scene. There, he would have learnt new crafts and disciplines.
It opened his eyes to the history and range of Jazz. I am not sure whether America has a strong Jazz tradition but I know France has a thriving and textured scene. One can look at Johnson and hear such a rich and varied voice and know Paris played a big part. Hearing the great Jazz artists there – fusing that with his church education and Soul upbringing – and there are so many dynamics to his music. We have U.S. Blues and Soul with Paris Jazz; London contemporaries artists and all the styles the capital boasts. Whilst in Paris; Johnson collaborated with the likes of Big Joe Turner’s Blues Caravan and helped solidify is music; cut his teeth with new acts and imbue more shades into his melting pot. All of these experiences and hook-ups can be detected in his album, The Deal Baby. It has been quite a background and upbringing for Bruce Mississippi Johnson. He carries his past with him but is involved in London and getting his music to the people here. The thing that amazes me about him – among many – is the way he has blending into London life and connected with musicians/D.J.s here. He has spoken with Rabin Goslin and performed on some of our local stations. Johnson seems to have a connection with the city and one imagines a raft of dates will come – the chance to bring his music to the people. I shall move on but feel there is a lot to recommend and love about Johnson. He brings that fame and exposure he found in Paris and is ensuring our modern scene is no stranger to the joys and pleasures of Blues – Soul power and the ecumenical elements of the church. I was excited featuring Johnson because he is someone that can genuinely change mainstream music and ensure genres like Soul and Blues are not seen as niche and minor. The sheer wonder and gravitas one discovers in his voice has already made an impact here. That is likely to strengthen and augment as he makes his name know in London. Britain needs talent like him so, because of that, a song such as No Good is essential.
No Good’s introduction brings in romantic and swirling organs to give the song a real kick and sense of imagination. In terms of sounds; I am reminded of Al Green’s Love and Happiness. It has that sense of drama and captivation about it. Johnson’s coda is a little calmer but it seems to carry a weight of sadness and contemplation. The song, when I see the first few seconds of its video, seems to look at romantic break-up and reckoning after the wreckage. Johnson has a ring in his hand – whether an engagement ring or wedding – and mournfully looks into the distance. Perhaps the song’s title refers to a love that has gone sour of the fact he is no good – maybe a bit dishonest or not the right person for the girl. The sweetheart took what he had and took advantage of his schoolboy crush. There was a sense of instant infatuation and trust. The hero wanted the romance to work and gave his heart to it. There was no expectation and rules: a man who was keen to give his soul and not play any games. It sees the girl has taken him for a fool and now, rather vividly, the hero is hanging out to dry. His teeth dangle from a tree – as Johnson sings with regret – and love has run cold. Adding a new dynamic and lyrical perspective to shattered love – many would forgive him for painting such bold and stark pictures. He was in a relationship and did not think anything would go wrong. There is “Too many damn confusion” and our hero has thrown everything away. He took reason out of the rhyme and was rather struck by an unexpected torrent. Our man is assessing everything and wondering what happened. Maybe there was too much trust from him and these of being caught up in the rush of passion. I am not sure who broke off the relationship but it seems like, from the start, things might have been on an uneven footing. Now, he looks at the emptiness of the bed and where things started to take a bad turn.
The band, backing Johnson, offering rushing keys and sympathetic support. There is a teasing, hissing beat and a sense of funkiness that provides relief against lyrics of solemnness and blame. The hero lets his voice soothe and rise: he has a wonderful chocolate-like vocal that gets into the heart and makes it skip a beat. Johnson has a great authority of the Blues and Soul so it is no surprise his vocal has a connection to past masters. I am not sure whether he directly sources from any particular singer but I hear Al Green and Gil Scott-Hero in the blend. It is whiskey-sharp but has that caramel warmth running through its marrow. Few artists are able to project such a curious combination. It gives, of course, the words that extra dynamic and authority. Our boy feels he is no good for anyone but himself. That might seem rash considering, maybe, the girl is partly to blame. He cannot be judged for giving his all to the relationship and trusting her implicitly. Maybe he rushed ahead and, the fact he has a wedding ring in his palm, he was eager to tie the knot and set up a home. She might have said ‘yes’ but was caught up in the moment. This might be a part for a Johnson: perhaps a particular love that was hot and special. It is worrying hearing Jonson look at the broken shards and put the blame on himself. Few artists cast the accusation inwards – this is something many could learn from. There is contrition and maturity but he might be putting too much weight on his own shoulders. The song’s video sees our hero caress and kiss a blonde woman whilst, in other scenes, reduce a dark-haired woman to tears. The lyrics say how Johnson’s past life was tough – maybe this is an excuse for the catting about and cheating. Revelations come in and maybe there is that inability to find joy and completion with one woman.
IN THIS PHOTO: Bruce, in Paris, around 1984/1985
He may have got into one relationship and found he was not fulfilled. A sexual desire and eagerness to sow his wild oats mean a mess has landed at his feet. Confusion reigned and, as he confused about his wife and children, he ruined a relationship. I am not sure whether he was unhappy in a relationship and should have got out – the marriage I assume – and been honest from the start. If he has; he may have been able to find time and transition into a new love. Instead, he rushed in and overlapped. It caught up with him and that need to confess and unburden – going back to his church upbringing – means he has damaged what he has. He looks around and wonders where all that confusion stemmed from. Perhaps he was bored in a marriage but was not brave enough to admit that. I feel Johnson is better on his own and cannot balance the realities and demands of a relationship. That need to find time away and assess what he wants means there is an opportunity for introspection and evaluation. I know it can be challenging staying in a committed relationship but Johnson has made a mistake and is up-front about it. It seems things are not as they appeared. The beats continue and the keys drive and create an infectious spirit. When Johnson changes to a speaking section – transition from sung to narrating – things become clearer. When he was having dinner with his girl across town; she started to mumble words and, eventually, admitted she was seeing someone else. Johnson’s low and deep voice means the words hit harder. To be fair; the break-up was his own making. As he was eating his dinner, he could see his wife enter the restaurant. The girl left and he was left with the bill – along with a lot of heartache and regret. He cannot blame anyone else for the results as he has been selfish and tried to have his cake and eat it. The rarity of finding an artist that is honest and admits they have made a mistake – that is quite humbling. I am not sure why the infidelity occurred but one feels Johnson was in a tough place and looking for as much affection and company as possible. He went about it the wrong way but would have learned a tough and valuable lesson. It is one he will move on from and grow wiser from it. I am not sure whether he is in a happy love not but is clear No Good documents a time when things were hard for him. Let’s not judge the man and the story but commend and celebrate a song that is a fine and wondrous mix of old-style Soul and Blues. An intoxicating brew that demands the listener offers their full and frank attention to it.
I would usually kick an artist arse who does not provide that many good and recent photos – I feel Johnson could kick my arse fairly readily! – but I have let it slide when it comes to the Mississippi-born artist. He is someone whose music is required in 2017 and, because of that, he gained a spot on the blog. That is not saying I have a strict code of conduct but I am so visually-minded I am turning people away at the door. Bruce Mississippi Johnson is a person who has such a sense of compassion and awareness. He has already lent his voice to the fundraising for Grenfell victims. Seeing as London as experienced another terrorist attack; one wonders whether Johnson felt that hard and how he reacted to that. The man puts his heart to the people and, wherever he is based, connects with the people. Maybe that is to his church raising and the way a Mississippi child would have been brought up. The sounds of Soul greats would have given the songwriter a sense of pride, compassion and community. Based in London; not only does Johnson have a great city where he can assimilate different sounds and genres – there is a rare opportunity to bring his brand of humanity and love to the people here. I know there are some kind-hearted London artists – it sounds like they are all cold and heartless – but it is rare finding someone like Bruce Mississippi Johnson. I am keen to see where he goes from here and what dates he has coming up. He has recently played the 606 Club in London and will be looking for new gigs. I am not sure whether he has played spots like Ronnie Scott’s and that esteemed space. London has quite a few great Jazz bars and venues for Johnson to get his music heard – wonderful small spaces where he can connect with his kind of crowd. To be fair; it is not only Jazz clubs where Johnson is celebrated.
I know 2018 will be a big year for him because, not only does he have a great group of fans behind him, but is starting to get his name more out there. He has played on and chatted to London D.J.s and seeing his fanbase build. I know Soul and Blues are genres are not popularised and prolific in the mainstream but that, I hope, will change. He has played at The Blues Kitchen (Shoreditch) and making his name known across the capital. When his album was released a few months back; Johnson performed at a range of different venues and excited the crowds. That has died down a bit but he is still performing across London. I wonder if there are dates coming that take in venues wider afield. I know Manchester is a city Johnson could seduce and find many opportunities in. There are so many great spots and spaces he could bring his music to. One cannot listen to Bruce Mississippi Johnson’s The Deal Baby and assume it is going to be a replica of Robert Johnson, Al Green – and the artists he was raised on. There is modernity and contemporary relevance to his music. One gets a great blast of modern production that unifies with the embers of Soul/Blues greats. Johnson’s rich and commanding voice means every song gets into the head and strikes the heart. Let us end things shortly but I am fascinated when American artists base themselves here and come from unfamiliar background. The fact Johnson has spent time in Paris and gained a name there – will he keep moving and go to other parts of the world?! I think Europe is the best place for him as there is a lot of affection and knowledge. In terms of historiy; artists have always been able to find themselves celebrated and acknowledged when playing genres like Jazz, Soul and Blues. American does have a connection with that type of music but is more concerned with other areas of music.
London is a vibrant and ever-changing city that is open to suggestions and progression. The capital is too hooked on the mainstream and media-pushed artists. The eyes and ears are never that wide when it comes to other parts of the music landscape. Let’s leave things here but I wanted to end by suggesting everyone familiarises themselves with Bruce Mississippi Johnson and his music. He has had a wonderfully interesting past and changed since his early recordings. He carries his idols and upbringing but he integrates sounds and artists he heard on the road into his fantastic songs. No Good is his recent single and one I was eager to get down to. It has an addictiveness that means you keep coming back to it and discovering new joys every time. I know Johnson will go a long way and there is plenty more to come from here. Whether there are more tour dates in 2017 – or is planning a new assault next year – I am not sure. It is a great time for the U.S. songwriter and The Deal Baby. Get your ears around a unique artist that brings something fresh to the London scene. He has the potential to hook and enthral large areas of the U.K. and get people turned onto classic Soul, Blues and Jazz. A terrific artist with many more years ahead; ensure you make Bruce Mississippi Johnson part of…
YOUR regular rotation.
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