Blues into Pleasure
Don Johnson's pure talent

The blues feels at home in Southern Alberta.

That could explain why so many incredibly talented and well- respected musicians choose to make this region their base: Ellen McIlwaine, Amos Garrett, Johnny V, Back Alley John, Tim Williams, Bill Dowey, and Texas born bluesman Donald Ray Johnson to name but a few.

Drummer-vocalist Johnson moved here about 13 years ago after living in L.A. for more than two decades, playing as a side-man with artists such as Big Joe Turner and Smokey Wilson, as well as being a member of the Grammy-winning act A Taste of Honey, who were responsible for the disco hit Boogie Oogie Oogie (he still has the Grammy in his china cabinet).

When his eyesight began to fail him - he's now legally blind - his first instinct was to return home to Texas, but a fellow musician encouraged Johnson to head to Montana, and a few months later a girlfriend brought him the rest of the way to Calgary.

Here he found a lifestyle that appealed to him and, more importantly a music community that welcomed him.

"They embraced me", the rumbly-voiced Johnson says.

"And I can say that without even thinking about it."

Johnson's first gig here was as the drummer for Steve Pineo, and from there he's built up a solo career that gets another boost with his latest CD, Pure Pleasure, which he releases with a party tonight and tomorrow night at Murrieta's.

His first album in more than four years features some pretty spectacular performances on 13 smooth and rich blues tracks - including eight originals.

Johnson's voice is the perfect mix of heart and soul, and helping him reach that much further inside is a group of guest musicians that includes Pineo, P.J. Perry, Ron Casat and Maurice John Vaughn.

And while Pure Pleasure should win over blues fans lucky enough to hear it, Johnson says he doesn't expect the Grammy committee to be calling any time soon. Which is fine by him, those big-time aspirations he once held as a young musician have been in the closet about as the heydays of disco.

"I really have no desire to get out there and complete with the young hip hoppers," he says with a deep laugh. "It's their time now. I'm 53 years old and I'm here. This is where my life is now and I'm quite pleased."

-Mike Bell
Calgary Sun (dec 6 2002)