Singer, songwriter, guitarist, arranger and producer Johnny Rawls draws on the 1950s' and '60s' deep soul-blues tradition in his guitar playing, yet his lyrics and singing are completely 1990s.
Rawls got his early musical education from his grandfather, John Paul Newson, a blind guitarist who played around the Hattiesburg area. Rawls began playing clarinet and saxophone in third grade, and by the time he was in his teens, the band instructor hired Rawls to play in his band. As a teen, Rawls had the opportunity to back singers like Joe Tex and Z.Z. Hill. He began playing guitar at age 12, learning as much as he could from players in other area blues bands. After leaving Mississippi for a year when he was 17, he returned, determined to form his own blues/soul ensemble. They found work backing up touring musicians and by the mid-1970s, Rawls joined O.V. Wright's band, working with Wright until his death in 1980. After Wright's death, the band continued to perform his music for 13 years as the O.V. Wright Band, opening shows for people like B.B. King, Little Milton Campbell and Bobby Bland. In the mid-1980s, the O.V. Wright Band also toured with Little Johnny Taylor, Latimore, B.B. Coleman, Blues Boy Willie, and others, including Lynn White.
Working with guitarist L.C. Luckett, Rawls recorded 45 rpm singles for his own label, Touch Records, and continued working around the South, touring regionally with soul-blues singers. In 1994, Rawls and Luckett recorded their first album, Can't Sleep at Night, for the Rooster Blues label. In 1995, Rawls parted with Luckett to lead a new group and found a record company that was interested, the London-based JSP label. Here We Go, his debut for JSP Records, was recorded in 1996, and since then, he's followed it up with Louisiana Woman, a 1997 release.
Rawls carries on the soul-blues tradition of people like O.V. Wright, Otis Redding and Z.Z. Hill in his singing style and guitar playing, but his arrangement, production and lyrics are steeped in the 1990s techniques and subject matter. Rawls is a true soul-blues renaissance man and with any luck. ~ Richard Skelly
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