Highway 61 Radio

March 13, 2011

Confirmed Monday – Big Jack Johnson died this morning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Scott Barretta @ 11:12 am

I apologize for the conflicting information on the website the last several days — we posted on Sunday that Big Jack Johnson had died, only to discover that this was not the case. Apparently he had to be resuscitated on Friday night, and then on Saturday nights there were reports that close friends thought they had “lost him.”

About a half hour ago Roger Stolle posted on Facebook that, according Jack’s close friend Red Paden of Red’s juke joint, which was Big Jack’s home base, Big Jack died this morning around 6am at a hospital in Memphis

Big Jack hadn’t been playing much recently due to health problems, but when he did perform he was still majestic. My last memories are of him playing the slide mandolin at the acoustic stage at last year’s Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, a performance that left one speechless.

Looking at the clip above I recall the raw energy of his performances when I first saw him perform in Clarksdale in the early ’90s at Red’s or some other club — I’m pretty sure I had seen him a number of times in the DC area prior to this, but it simply wasn’t the same as watching him before his family and friends, when he always gave it all.

He worked tirelessly when he was on the road — upwards of 300 dates a year — just a decade ago, and often it was all too clear that he was exhausted and overworked. I was relieved to hear that he was largely retiring from the road some years ago, and I hope that one solace for his family is that they were able to spend so much time with him during his last years.

One of the first things I did when I moved to Mississippi was attend the funeral of Jack’s longtime musical partner and fellow Jelly Roll King Frank Frost, and it wasn’t too long ago that I attended the funeral of Sam Carr. There, Big Jack–then the last of the Jelly Roll Kings–delivered an emotionally devastating tribute to his old friend via a personalized song that drew upon the blues standard Reconsider Baby:

So long, oh I hate to see you go.
So long, oh I hate to see you go.
And the way that I will miss you, I guess you will never know


Several years ago I wrote up a biography of Big Jack for the Mississippi Arts Commission. It was written before he issued his last record, Katrina, together with the Pennsylvania-based Cornlickers, who often backed up Big Jack at Red’s. The record can be ordered via Big Jack’s website. At Sunflower Big Jack announced that the band had recorded another CD, which to my knowledge has yet to be released.

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