Lazy Lester

Back when blues was king and South Louisiana was the breeding ground for a blast of some of the most memorable American music ever recorded, at the heart of it was Lazy Lester. Those days are gone, and so too are most of its luminaries. And yet Lester carries the tradition almost single-handedly around the world several times over each year. As a true living legend, his talents are as much in demand as ever.

After all, there aren't many living bluesmen who've had major hits, as Lester did on Excello Records in the 1950s and '60s, and are still performing with the gusto and precision of their youth. Lester hasn't lost a thing, and as his voice has richened with age, you could make a strong case for him being in his prime now.

Leslie Johnson was born June 20, 1933 in the small town of Torras, Louisiana near the Mississippi state border to Robert Johnson and Maggie Hartford. He was raised mostly in Scotlandville, a suburb of Baton Rouge. As a boy, he worked as a gas station attendant, woodcutter and at a grocery store, where he purchased a harmonica and Little Walter's famous "Juke" record. Lester began to blow harp, and in a relatively short time became somewhat proficient. One of his brothers had a guitar, which Lester also had learned to strum. He credits Jimmy Reed and Little Walter as his main blues influences, and you can easily hear Reed's vocal style in Lester's singing. But Lester isn't shy about telling anyone that his first love was and still is country – the real, traditional kind. He got hooked early on Jimmie Rogers.

In his late teens, Lester joined his first ever band, a group called the Rhythm Rockers that included Big John Jackson on guitar, Sonny Martin on piano and Eddie Hudson as singer. Lester blew harp. The group played primarily high school dances, and Lester also began to sit in with Guitar Gable's band on club gigs.

It was in the mid-1950s, on a bus, that fate turned Lester's way, and the roots to what would become classic music began to grow. As Lester tells it, he was living in Rayne, Louisiana at the time and was on the bus riding home. Lightnin' Slim, who was already an established recording artist, was also on the bus and was headed to Crowley to cut a record at Jay Miller's Studio, where so much of the material for the Nashville-based Excello Records was being recorded. Since Crowley was just seven miles further than Rayne and because Lester had a serious itch to be around big-time music making, Lester decided to stay on the bus and accompany Slim to the studio. When they got there, the scheduled harp player, Wild Bill Phillips, didn't show for the session. Lester told Slim that he had actually played with Slim's band and thought he could handle the harp parts for the session. Remarkably, Slim and Miller gave Lester that chance, and he did not disappoint. A classic pairing was born, and Lester became a mainstay on Slim's Excello recordings and his gigs. He'd follow Slim's guitar licks with short, stabbing solos after Slim's trademark prodding of, "Blow your harmonica, son."

Producer Jay Miller was impressed by Lester's work with Lightnin' Slim, and in 1957 Lester debuted as a lead artist on Excello, recording "I'm Gonna Leave You Baby" backed with the instrumental "Lester's Stomp" with accompaniment from Guitar Gable's band, which included Gable's brother Yank on bass and Clarence "Jockey" Etienne on drums. Before the record's release, Miller had decided that "Lazy Lester" had more of a ring to it than "Lester Johnson." Miller is said to have come up the nickname based on Lester's slow, lazy style of talking. And as Lester's said, "I was never in a hurry to do nothing." In any case, the name's stuck for almost 50 years now.

Lester's first legitimate hits came in 1958 with the release of "I'm A Lover Not A Fighter" backed with "Sugar Coated Love." Those two songs established Lester as a star. Record buyers went gaga when they heard that nasal-pitched voice and the harp work that imitated the voice note for note. The arrangements were tight yet still sounded homemade or organic. There was a rhythmic edge to the sound – something that we now know as the "Excello Sound." These songs went as far as any others in establishing that association.
Jay Miller, who wrote the songs along with much of the Excello output, realized quickly that Lazy Lester was a perfect vehicle for his budding vision, and the two collaborated on many great songs and arrangements to come.

Lester hit again with the follow-up record, "I Hear You Knockin'"/"Through The Goodness of My Heart," which featured a young Warren Storm on drums. Storm would go on to become a major Excello artist himself.

For almost a decade, Lester remained as a regular Excello artist. Other notable songs from his 15 records for the company include "You Got Me Where You Want Me," "Patrol Blues," "Whoa Now," "If You Think I've Lost You," "The Same Thing Could Happen To You" and "Pondarosa Stomp." In fact, his "Pondarosa Stomp" number is the namesake for one of today's most important roots-based music festivals. The Ponderosa Stomp (note the slight spelling difference), begun in 2002, is a two-night celebration held each year in New Orleans between the weekends of the Jazz & Heritage Festival. It features the most legendary surviving blues and early rock and roll artists. The 2006 Stomp will be in Memphis May 9 and 10 and will benefit New Orleans and Gulf Coast musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina. Lester's song, an instrumental number, was named after a slang term (Pondarosa) for the Angola State Prison, rather than as a tribute to the TV show Bonanza.

Lester was a constant in Miller's studio, serving in the role of accompanying musician and arranger when he wasn't the lead artist himself. Lester did everything. He sang. He played the harp. He played the guitar. And he provided every conceivable kind of percussion from actual drums to whacking on cardboard boxes, wood blocks or saddles, tapping newspapers in his lap, or even banging on walls. All told, he played on sessions for Lightnin' Slim, Slim Harpo, Katie Webster, Lonesome Sundown, Whispering Smith, Silas Hogan, Henry Gray, Tabby Thomas, Nathan Abshire, Johnny Jano and many, many others.

Excello was more than just a blues label, and Lester's innate talents served every type of session Miller produced, including Cajun, country, swamp pop, rock 'n' roll, R&B and blues. As Lester tells it, he knew the country music better than the guys who showed up to play it. But initially Miller wouldn't allow Lester to perform on those sessions, believing that country was "white" music and having a black man on the record would hurt its sales. "That's when I was 'Colored,'" Lester likes to joke, poking fun at the changing labels for minorities through the years. Lester would teach the white country artists how to play the songs before they rolled tape. Finally, it got to the point where some of the country artists said to Miller, "Why don't you just let Lester play on the song? He knows it better than any of us." Lester still loves country and includes in all of his performances beautiful renditions of standards by Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams.

Through all of his influences and associations, Lester's crafted a style as unique as his nickname. He calls it "swamp blues," and it's a mixture of blues, swamp pop and classic country. Lester says it's a "down home" music without the additions and subtractions that other more urban-styled blues has included.

Lester called it quits with Excello and Miller around 1966 and worked various day jobs including road construction, trucking and lumberjacking. Around 1969, he moved to Chicago for a very brief stint.

In 1971, he reunited with his old buddy Lightnin' Slim for a concert in Slim's new hometown of Pontiac, Michigan. On the trip, Lester met Slim Harpo's sister who also lived in Pontiac, and in 1975, he moved to Pontiac to be with her. After he moved, he retired from music. Like so many musicians, he'd tired of the garbage that can go with making your living as a performer. After a few years, he resumed some occasional playing with a few of the Detroit blues artists. Finally, in the late '80s, he began performing regularly and realized he was in significant demand. In 1987, he recorded Lazy Lester Rides Again for the Blue Horizon label in England. The record was released on Kingsnake in the U.S. and won a W.C. Handy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. In 1988, Alligator Records released Harp & Soul, further alerting the world that Lazy Lester was done resting. Since, he's recorded two records for Antone's and one direct-to-disc for APO Records. All of his Excello material has been reissued by various labels, primarily in the United States and England.

Through the popularity of these recordings and as the Excello story has become the stuff of legend, Lazy Lester has enjoyed tremendous popularity worldwide. In 1998, he was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame. In 2004, he played at Radio City Music Hall in New York as part of Martin Scorsese's Year of the Blues super concert that resulted in his Lightning In A Bottle documentary. The concert included what was perhaps the most impressive lineup of blues stars ever assembled.

Lester recently moved to Paradise, California to be with his girlfriend, Pike. He regularly performs both as a solo artist (with acoustic guitar, rack harmonica and foot percussion) and as the front man with a band, playing either harmonica or guitar.

Chris Thomas King

Born in 1962, guitarist Chris Thomas King became the last major folk blues discovery of the 20th Century when he was discovered in Louisiana in 1985 by a folklorist from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D. C. He was introduced to the world the following year by venerable folk label Arhoolie Records as an authentic folk blues successor to Huddie Ledbetter, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt and Manse Lipscomb.


As the darling of blues purists and aficionados, and the last great hope of the waning folk blues revival, which began during the 1960s folk movement, Chris Thomas King shocked the music world in the early ‘90s when he abandoned all pretenses of primitivism and embraced hip hop modernity and digital aesthetics, turning the blues world upside down.


The Blues Mafia — a consortium of folklorists, record collectors, and researchers; white self-appointed arbiters of black musical authenticity who ironically had a cartel on the lucrative new market of white rock fans interested in its musical roots — felt betrayed by King. They denounced him in the music press as a heretic, banning the young rebel from festivals and theaters across the United States.


Unbowed, King moved to Europe in 1993 and went on to write and produced a series of ground breaking recordings including “21st Century Blues” and “My Pain Your Pleasure,” which boldly challenged the ostensible primitivism ideology of “authenticity” as either naive romanticism or an outright bigoted appropriation of his culture. The French, having a penchant for recognizing gifted unsung black American artists, were enthralled by King’s subversive bohemian stance. He was lauded a genius for his transcendent folk art, which he coined twenty-first-century blues.


Celebrated as an expatriate artist, yet alienated from his culture back home, and seemingly destined for obscurity in his own country, King decided to return to New Orleans in 1996 to contend for the soul of the blues. But he found it difficult to re-enter the traditional American market, from which he had been exiled.


Nevertheless, as fate would have it, King was chosen by the Coen brothers to play the role of itinerant bluesman Tommy Johnson along side George Clooney in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).” Larger than life on the silver screen, Chris Thomas King, acoustic guitar in hand, captivated audiences the world over, silencing his critics. His authenticity as a folk blues artist, by any measure, proved to be undeniable. A star of stage and screen was born. New fans the world over packed sold out theaters and art centers to immerse themselves in his illuminating melodious glow. King sold millions of records and won numerous awards, superseding the success of his folk blues predecessors.


King’s major contributions to the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” phenomenon, along with its follow up album and tour, “Down From The Mountain,” has inspired a new generation of musicians such as, Hozier, Mumford & Sons, and the Lumineers. His songs “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and “John Law Burned Down the Liqour Sto,’” to name a few, have been covered by numerous artists including legend Buddy Guy.


Thirty years after becoming the last major folk blues discovery of the 20th Century, Chris Thomas King, whose career is a coda for the folk blues revival of the ‘60s, is today, one of the most important artists in the world for having changed the way we think of blues.


In a newly written song King sings a remarkable refrain that goes, “The blues was born in, Louisiana, not Mississippi, or Texarkana,” about the ostensible fallacy that it originated in the Delta. He then goes on to state unequivocally in the following verse, “Down in New Orleans” is “where the blues was born. You can still hear the sound of, Buddy Bolden’s horn.” Thankfully, also in New Orleans, we can still hear the enlightened art of Chris Thomas King.

Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones

Eastside Detroit native Doug Deming, now hailing from Florida's Gulf Coast, has garnered widespread attention for his deft guitar work and memorable songwriting. With a nod to the likes of T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian, as well as Luther Tucker and Robert Jr. Lockwood, Doug leaves his own mark whether swingin' on the big jazz box, or playing straight up blues on the solid body Fender guitar. While playing the local Detroit scene in the early 90′s, major players began to take notice, and Doug spent much of the following years backing many of the day's top touring blues artists, including Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson, legendary Louisiana swamp bluesman Lazy Lester, Gary Primich, Chicago greats Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones, and A.C. Reed, as well as Detroit's own Queen of the Blues, Alberta Adams.

With a decade of touring and recording to his credit, Doug has earned his position alongside today's heavies on the blues scene. Leading his band, The Jewel Tones, Doug continues to bring noteworthy traditional and original roots music to his audiences. Doug's latest recording, What's it Gonna Take, exhibits the outstanding guitar work and remarkable singing and songwriting that have become Doug's calling card. Paired with acclaimed harp man and touring partner Dennis Gruenling, and backed by the new Jewel Tones line-up of Andrew Gohman on upright and Fender bass, and Devin Neel on drums, What's it Gonna Take is available now on the VizzTone label.

Lisa Ridings

The Lisa Ridings Band performs a wide variety of energetic songs delivering an explosive night of music.

Lisa's powerful soulful voice and stage presence captivates the audience and backed by her experienced and remarkable band , they keep the crowd dancing all night long.

The Lisa Ridings Band 's passion and excitement thrills the audience and keeps them coming back for more!

Mike Imbasciani

Mike Imbasciani
Blues, Classic Rock, Folk & Rock-A-Billy
Mike has been playing guitar since he was five years old and have since learned play the harmonica and piano. His musical inspiration comes from Eric Clapton, SRV, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Brian Setzer, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters.
He began performing in public locally in his small town Punta Gorda at Gilchrist Park "Guitar Army". Since then he has expanded and performed in many areas of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee including Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, Tampa, Orlando, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Fort Myers, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Naples and Miami.
Mike has been fortunate enough to have some great mentors including: Lucky Elden, Mike Hovencamp, Elber Perlaza, Dawn Metzner, Danny Shepard, Denise Young, Susan Neikamp, and Sandy Poltarak.
Performance Venues
Charlotte, Sarasota, Lee and Collier Counties
Bert's Bar and Grill, French Connection Cafe, The Blue Rooster, Richee B's, Uptown Larry's, British Open Pub, Flying Dog Cafe, Yucatan Beachstand, Buckingham Blues Bar, Gulf Coast Towne Center Mall, Ace's Lounge, The Ice House, YABO
Orlando
B.B. King's Blues Club, Holly & Dolly's, The Alley
Tampa and Clearwater Beach
Gaspar's Grotto, James Joyce Pub, Skipper's Smokehouse, Frenchy's Rockaway Grille
Miami
Tobacco Road, Titanic Brewing Company, The Fish House
Nashville
B.B. King's Blues Club, Tootsie's World Famous Orchid Lounge, Cadillac Ranch, Tequlia Cowboy, Rock Bar, Rippy's, McFadden's, Big Shotz, Nashville Palace, Pick's, Legends
Memphis
Blues City Cafe, King's Palace Cafe, Ground Zero Blues Club, Superior Restaurant, Handy Pavillion
Atlanta
Black Diamond Grill, Northside Tavern, Montana's
Festivals
21st Annual Sarasota Blues Fest, Naples Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival, Eric Clapton 65th Birthday Tribute, Punta Gorda Xtreme Makeover Celebration, Mango Mania Festival, Hibiscus Festival, ArtSensation, Alliance for the Arts opening for Larry Coryell Jazz Trio and Bluesman Morali Coryell; Sounds of Jazz & Blues opening for Boney James (2014) and again for Spyro Gyra (2016).

$24.99 - $100.00

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