Donald Ray Johnson
"These Blues / The Best Of Donald Ray Johnson"
By Peter "Blewzzman" Lauro © May 2013
"These Blues" is a compilation of songs that are the best of Donald Ray Johnson's work from his previous six releases. How he narrowed it down to only thirteen tracks beats the hell out of me. Had the task been mine to pick which songs should be included, this would be a double, or maybe even a three disc set. Of the four albums I have: "Don Johnson", "Travelin' Man", "Pure Pleasure" (Blewzzy Award Winner, 2008) and "It's Time", there isn't a bad song on any of them.
The title track, "These Blues", is off of Donald's "This Time" album. As with a lot of Donald's music, especially since he is the drummer, this one features profound rhythm from him and the bassist. Add some smoking guitar leads and a scorching sax solo by Ralph Moncivais and this one sizzles.
It's going to soon be apparent to you why "Pure Pleasure" - the album this song first appeared on - was my choice for the 2008 "Blewzzy Award". The song is titled "Slow Down" and - trust me when I tell you this - none of the musicians did. This one smokes.
Musically, "Here To Stay" has it all going on: piercing sax leads, great guitar riffs, monstrous rhythm and yet it's Donald's vocals that steal the song. If you thought Barry White sounded soulful and sexy, forget about it, you haven't heard nothin' yet.
About thirty years, or so, ago I heard a song done by a local Ft. Lauderdale Blues musician named Junior Drinkwater (and The Thirst Quenchers). Although the song wasn't an original I couldn't recall having ever heard it before. However, after hearing Junior singing "These Last Two Dollars", it became one of my all time favorite blues songs. Now I'm listening to Donald do it and I'm thinking I'm hearing my favorite version of all time. With the band in a slightly funky groove, Donald and the backup vocalists are belting this one outta the park. I could easily listen to this one for the rest of the afternoon. Incredible stuff!
Back in 2008, when I reviewed Donald's "Pure Pleasure" CD this is what I had to say about this track: "In addition to musically being another of the discs highlights, "No Guitar Blues" is a lyrical pisser. In the middle of this very serious and low down blues number, while Michael Huston's making his guitar cry out some scorching blues, Donald starts softly telling a story about how a record company exec once said something to him about not having a guitar. The hotter Michael's notes get, the more hilarious Donald gets. Good stuff right here." Yep, it was then and is now.
Here's another direct quote from my "My Pure Pleasure" review: "Had this song been written this year, "Thrilling You Killing Me" would have been my nomination for song of the year. It just does not get any better....or more blue than this. If the question "What is the blues" should ever be asked, this is the song that should be played as the answer. It's the type of song that just stops you in your tracks, makes your eyes close, your head hang down and carries you away. I'm feeling this one. By far, the discs best." That's how I felt then - that's how I feel now. Stop what you're doing, turn up the volume and treat yourself to six minutes of heavenly blues.
Other tracks on "These Blues / The Best Of Donald Ray Johnson" include: "Ain't No Fun For Me", "Gone So Long", "Always On My Mind", "Me And Jack (Daniels)", "It Ain't Easy Being Blue", Working Girl Blues" and "It's Time".
If there was ever a 100% radio friendly CD, this is it. As a show host all you've got to do it put it in and pick a number. Regardless of your selection, your listeners will love it.
Check Donald out at www.DonaldRay.com, but before you do, try to guess what late seventies Grammy Award winning group he belonged to. Then after you do, please tell him his buddy the Blewzzman sent you.