Living Blues Issue #202
by JIM DEKOSTER
Originally from Bryan, Texas, where he was born in 1948 and came up gigging with pianist Nat Dove, Donald Ray Johnson took up music in earnest playing drums for the likes of Joe Houston and Lowell Fulson after relocating to the West Coast when he got out of the Navy following a tour of duty in Viet Nam. He’s since migrated northward to Calgary, Alberta, where he recorded a couple of CDs in the 1990s as Don Johnson and another in 2002 under his full name, while also serving as drummer in the Phillip Walker Band.
Johnson has proven himself to be an able tunesmith, but there are only three originals on offer here, with the title track and Apple Tree featuring Maurice John Vaughn on guitar and Me & Jack (Daniels) boasting a guest spot by Sonny Rhodes’ lap steel. The covers are a varied and well-chosen lot, though, ranging from Elmore James and former boss Fulson through Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Bill Withers, Willie Nelson, and Tony Joe White. The program ends with the a cappella You Reign King Jesus by JohMax, a vocal trio featuring the fiery lead of Johnson’s daughter Panzie with his other children Tonya and Johnathan in support.
Johnson again proves himself to be a strong singer, and with its solid band work and production values, this set is a clear cut above the general run of vanity label CDs.