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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Courtney Johnson born 20 December 1939

Courtney Johnson (December 20, 1939 – June 6, 1996) was an American banjo player, best known for his work as an original member of the band New Grass Revival. Influenced by Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys, Johnson is often considered to be an inventor of the newgrass style of banjo playing, polished and improved later on by such personalities as Béla Fleck, Alison Brown, Scott Vestal of Sam Bush Band and Jens Krüger of Krüger Brothers.

Johnson began to play guitar at the age of seven, but didn't pick up the banjo until he was about 25 years old. He worked as a mechanic in a service station at his hometown of Hiseville, Kentucky before he earned enough money as a musician. Johnson played in several local bands, including the Rocky Road Boys with Bill Hatfield on fiddle and Bill Logsdon on guitar. 

In 1969, Sam Bush asked Courtney to join his band, Poor Richard's Almanac. They played together in local clubs until 1970, when Bush left to join the Bluegrass Alliance band. In 1971, Johnson also joined the band, consisting of Bush, fiddler Lonnie Pierce, guitarist Tony Rice and bassist Ebo Walker. The Bluegrass Alliance is often considered as one of the bands that started to play progressive bluegrass. Band front man Lonnie Peerce suffered with health problems and the band went on hiatus several times. Other members of the group were busy with other projects and all that led, consequently, to disbanding of the group and creation of the New Grass Revival The Bluegrass Alliance eventually reformed in 1998 with all new members. 

New Grass Revival was formed by Bush, Johnson, Walker and Curtis Burch in 1971, after they left Lonnie Pierce and decided to create their own band. The group name comes from the style they created, "Newgrass", a term that Sam Bush credited to Ebo Walker. This line-up recorded the band's self-titled album in 1972. After some early changes on the bass position, the group recruited rock bassist John Cowan and recorded 5 albums in this setup. Most of the band members were multi-instrumentalists and Johnson often switched from banjo and guitar, sometimes even during one song on stage. He occasionally played Dobro as well and occasionally sang harmony.  

  (Here's "When The Storm is Over" from above 1977 album.) 

During his years with New Grass Revival, he developed the banjo playing to new levels. He is considered as a very innovative banjo player, although not as polished as later group member Béla Fleck. His trademark banjo solos with the band include songs such as "When the Storm Is Over", "Steam Powered Aeroplane", "Fly through the Country", "This Heart of Mine", "Crooked Smile", "Souvenir Bottles", "Great Balls of Fire" and others. 

In 1981, Johnson and Burch left the New Grass Revival, citing that they were tired of touring. They continued playing locally in several bands including the Courtney Johnson Band, Barren County and BJT (Burch, Johson, Timberlake). Johnson later put together a band including Burch on Dobro/guitar, himself on banjo/guitar, his wife Hazel on mandolin/guitar and Eric Albany on bass. Johnson died on June 7, 1996, aged 56, diagnosed with lung cancer. (Info from Wikipedia)

Courtney Johnson doing a banjo workshop at "The Pickin' Parlor" in Flatwoods, KY November 8th, 1986 with Tom Timberlake on Guitar and Hazel Johnson on Mandolin.

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For New Grass Revival – When the Storm Is Over go here:

1."Four Days of Rain" (Rich Roberts) - 3:39
2."White Freight Liner Blues" (Townes van Zandt) - 2:38
3."Sail to Australia" (Steven F. Brines & Sam Bush) - 3:48
4."When the Storm Is Over" (Bob Lucas) - 2:40
5."And He Says `I Love You`" (Steven F. Brines & Sam Bush) - 3:42
6."Vamp in the Middle" (John Hartford) - 3:44
7."Like a Child in the Rain" (Steven F. Brines & Sam Bush) - 3:48
8."Tennessee Wagoner" (Traditional) - 1:32
9."Colly Davis" (Steven F. Brines & Jim Smoak) - 2:42
10."Crooked Smile" (Sam Bush) - 7:42