What is ‘soul blues’, anyway?
We think its music that is equal parts smile, smoke, and sweat. That sweat comes from hot shows, hard work and a lifetime learning what life might have waiting right around the corner. And then expressing it all, sweetly.
About Johnny Rawls
About twenty years back, Living Blues called Johnny Rawls a “soul-blues renaissance man.” That accurately summarized Johnny’s non-stop career, which started when he was just 15. And since the magazine hung that title on Johnny, he has been living up to every letter of it. Just since joining Third Street Cigar Records in 2018, he’s released three albums and is working on a fourth for 2021. And almost every day that he could tour the US or Europe, it seems he has. Fans all across the world wait to hear Johnny Rawls will be in the area – just like last year.
Hailing from Columbia, Mississippi, and born in the year Eisenhower took office, Johnny took to music almost immediately. Grade school saw him progress through various marching band instruments until a guitar fell into his hands about the time he was 13. And even though that axe was the future, he got his first pro gig at 15 as a saxman, soon backing Joe Tex, ZZ Hill, and The Sweet Inspirations. And Johnny might have stayed in the backline had he not met the great O.V. Wright and become his bandleader in the mid-70s. When the soul world lost O.V. in 1980, Little Johnny Taylor asked Johnny to lead his band, and there was Johnny, back on the road.
The mid-80s saw marquees bear the name Johnny Rawls, as a starring act, for the first time. For the next decade, Johnny built the reputation that backs that name today. He became renowned for a club show that got the crowd on their feet, and he honed the soul blues style he now represents better than almost anyone.
And once Johnny started recording, with the appropriately-titled Here We Go in 1996, all those skills – master of multiple instruments, singer, songwriter, producer – paid off big time. Johnny has released a whopping 18 albums in less than 25 years. Twice. He’s grabbed the 'Best Soul Blues Album of the Year' trophy at Memphis’s annual Blues Music Awards. The most recent notch came when got the award for his first Third Street Cigar release, I’m Still Around. He followed that chart-ready record with 2019’s tribute to a friend of 40 years, I Miss Otis Clay. And before the dust could settle, Johnny was back in 2020, with an album recorded mostly in Europe just before the Covid-19 epidemic took him from the road, Where Have All The Soul Men Gone.
One day, the Rawls show will return to the circuit, and you don’t want to miss it. In the meantime, dive into Johnny’s Third Street Cigar catalog, rich in stories and joy and gospel and the smooth grit that holds it all together.
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