Fans of guitar tone have a lot to learn about Bill Johnson. His fourth album, Cold Outside should be the one that has this Vancouver Island native flying high above the radar, finally. Ripe with an abundance of select tracks, Johnson proves a bona fide triple threat. He’s created 11 originals that tower over anyone else in this category. 

As a guitarist, he’s listed as a blues artist yet his expertise embraces equal parts country and rock. Yet it’s his vocals that distinguish him – a drop-dead country croon that is right at home with anything he seems to to sing about. 

Launching with Baggage Blues, he spikes it with hard-edged blues guitar while guest David Vest contributes rolling piano boogie as Johnson’s booming voice glues it all together. 

Darcy Phillips’s scorching B3 unites with Joby Baker’s big-bottomed bass (and drums) to cut Johnson loose on, head-turning leads that cut like glass. Rick Erickson’s bass, Baker’s drums, and Phillips’s piano all add to Johnson’s tapestry. The gentle Angeleen underlines the abilities of a great country vocalist, country-blues guitarist, and all-round hell of a smart songwriter. 

– By Eric Thom 

Appeared in Penguin Eggs Spring 2017 issue.

 

Canadian Bill Johnson has a great voice. It’s what holds his self-released fourth album “Cold Outside” together…that, and his compositional prowess. The dude knows how to string some sentences into a cohesive whole, make ‘em rhyme, and have ‘em come out profound. To hear him sing his 11 originals while playing guitar and leading his keyboards/bass/drums band is to feel what he’s feeling. His is a communicable enthusiasm, be it the “Nine Dollar Bill” he’s trying to pass or what “Makes A Fella Nervous” totin’ around his “Angry Guitar” with “My Natural Ability,” “Free From My Trouble.”Highlights all, Johnson rolls with a savvy flair.

 

Canadian Bill Johnson was born in 1964 and started early on guitar. His precocious skills led him on to stages from age 14 and he worked for some years in Calgary where he backed many touring bluesmen. Family health issues forced him into semi-retirement for a decade and more recently his wife’s health also necessitated some time off the road (a situation referenced in the title track here). This latest album follows 2010’s Still Blue and is entirely original. Bill handles all guitars and vocals with regular bandmates Rick Erikson on bass, Darcy Phillips on keys and either Ross Hall or Joby Baker (who also co-produced the album with Bill) on drums; David Vest guests on piano on three tracks.

Bill displays a good variety of styles here and sings in a clear, strong voice with a touch of grit. Opener “Baggage Blues” is a driving blues with David Vest’s piano to the fore; “Nine Dollar Bill” is a fast-paced shuffle with plenty of rocking 50’s style guitar from Bill (“Don’t call it jazz, it’s my West Coast jumping blues”); “Night Train” has an almost C&W feel with deep notes rumbling behind the train. The title track contains references to Bill’s difficult family health issues: “My wife she was sick while my Mother was dying. It’s cold outside, I ain’t talking about the weather, get hip, you know it’s cold outside”. With an ominous sounding guitar refrain and sombre backing, this is a dark song indeed. However, things brighten up with the catchy, slide and piano-driven “True Love” before the slow blues of “My Natural Ability” on which Bill’s BB-esque guitar and Darcy’s fine piano work fit the lyrics brilliantly: “I’ve got an inclination for the blues and a natural ability to lose”.

Bill returns to catchy material on “Makes A Fella Nervous” with another fine piano contribution from David as Bill bemoans the interest that the police seem to be taking in his activities! “Free From My Trouble” is a driving tune with a touch of country rock and plenty of slide from Bill who then gets angry with his woman on “Angry Guitar”, a song that recalls some of Jimmy Thackery’s humorous tunes. “Driftin’ And Driftin’” is a familiar title but this is not Charles Brown’s song; what it has in common is a slow rhythm but Bill’s song has more of a country blues feel with the stately piano and weeping slide behind Bill’s weary vocals. The album closes in reflective mood with “Angeleen”, a song about a “siren who sure has some chops” though Bill is now “grateful that I somehow got away and live to love another day”. The ballad has plenty of gentle acoustic playing plus Bill’s world-weary voice to make a good end to the disc.

Solid playing, good vocals, varied and interesting songs make this a disc that stands out from the crowd and makes this reviewer recommend that readers seek it out.

 

Bill Johnson has been a stalwart of the Canadian blues music scene for many years as a guitarist with numerous blues bands, fronting his own band and playing solo. He has opened for household names such as Otis Rush, Dr.John and James Cotton. Cold Outside, his forth release, follows his 2010 recording Still Blue, which received a Juno nomination together with three nominations by the Toronto Blues Society. It’s likely that this offering will receive equally positive plaudits. It consists of eleven tracks all written by Johnson, all blues based but coming from different directions. The splendid title track, with a semi spoken lyric, is a harrowing tale of death and destitution, enriched by some wonderfully atmospheric guitar playing by Johnson. My Natural Ability is BB King sounding blues heaven with bubbling guitar touches and wicked piano playing by Darcy Phillips. Makes A Fella Nervous, similar to quite a lot of the recordings has a ‘live’ sound to it, the listener could be sitting on a high stool in a barroom listening to a top notch blues band. 

Johnson together with drummer Joby Baker produced the album at Baker’s own studio in Victoria BC. Rick Erickson plays bass, Darcy Phillips adds piano and organ and both Ross Hall and David Best play drums and piano respectively on three tracks

"As usual Bill moves along the blues with a precise elegance, thanks to his innovative and clever performing both on guitar and vocals. Backed by a faultlessly wise band, they manage to turn this album into one of the most interesting blues discs recorded this year in Canada. GREAT." ****

Best of 2016: The Garage received a lot of blues CDs this year and all of them were above standard, but ultimately had to be judged for other reasons of personality, believability, skill and versatility, etc. Take a bow Michael Kaeshammer and Colin James, but hear Bill Johnson whose Cold Outside had all those things.

It’s been a long wait for Bill Johnson fans. His last recording, Still Blue, was released in 2010 and earned him wide spread recognition with a 2012 JUNO nomination as well as three nominations from the Toronto Blues Society. The wait was worth it and the Victoria based blues guitarist, vocalist, composer has released an excellent follow-up with Cold Outside. A working musician for almost forty years and a man who has seen his share of life’s obstacles Johnson sings and plays with humility and absolute honesty. The core of a great bluesman.

 Throughout his music you can hear many influences; Elmore James, Little Willie John, BB King, Bobby Blue Bland. Every time you listen others will emerge, but they result in a music that is authentically Johnson. The band is Johnson’s working band: Rick Erickson on Bass, Darcy Phillips on Piano and Organ, Ross Hall on Drums (three tracks) with a couple of additions; Producer Joby Baker on Drums, and the extraordinary pianist David Vest on three tracks. Vest has Twice won the Maple Blues Award for Piano Keyboard player of the year.

 The eleven tracks the CD are all Johnson originals: his lyrics are alternately insightful, rueful, tragic, and comic, with a hint of bravado. “I got the guitar boogie like no one else can play,” - that also happens to be true. Followed by “I’ve got an inclination for the blues and a natural ability to lose.” 

 

Cold Outside was released by Bill Johnson in May 2016. The album is a creation of perfectly blended vocals that merge into the instrumentals like they were born together. You can hear the experience in Bill Johnson’s music. With new blues fans noticing Bills music and how it is meant to be….I have a feeling his 40 years of paid dues will be able to bring on a whole new professional outlook on the Canadian blues artist.

 My favourite song on this album is “Free from my Troubles”, which explains the hard rollercoaster ride of getting rid of one problem and then another 10 popping up around the corner. And how you always wonder if the Devils trying to get you. When all you just want to be is free of all your troubles no matter where you go.

Also featured on this album, you will find performances from Rick Erickson, Darcy Phillips, Ross Hall, along with very special guests, Joby Baker, and David Vest.

 

Canadian Beats  - by Travis Rump 

Ah! The blues with a guy named Johnson! What more could you want? Here, you’ve got Bill Johnson on all the guitars and singing with a rough and ready voice. He’s teamed up with Rick Erickson/b, Darcy Phillips-David Vest-p—org and Ross Hall-Joby Baker/dr for a collection of earthy tunes. He likes the slow boogie, and it fits with his picking and singing on “True Love” and “Baggage Blues” while the B3 moans on the smoky “My Natural Ability” and the funky “Angry Guitar.” He growls a bit when he taps into his inner Johnny Cash on “Night Train” and can spin an ominous story during the title track; he’s able to take you to the front porch with his acoustic guitar during the folksy “Angeleen” and the evocative “Driftin’ and Driftin’” switching between electric and hollow body depending on the amount of electricity. Good enough for a low ceiling night.

B.C. blues writer Bill Johnson says on the faux-autobiographical cut Nine Dollar Bill, "Don't call it jazz, it's my West Coast jumpin' blues," but don't let him fool you. No it's not jazz, but there's darn near every kind of blues on the veteran's latest. He's a deft hand at each blue style, and not afraid to branch out by throwing in lots of roots moments as well.  


Night Train has some Old West mystery in it, a touch of Rawhide guitar, definitely a sundown song. Cold Outside grabs the dirty 30s feel, where cold doesn't just mean the temperature. In My Natural Ability, he take on a slow, B.B. feel: "I got an inclination for the blues, and a natural ability to lose."


As you can tell by the above line, Johnson has a natural ability with words, and the album shines musically from top to bottom, it's the all-original lyrics that make it all new and fresh. Makes A Fella Nervous is a fun cut about being a little paranoid around the police, which sounds old-time, but could be about today. 

He saves the killer lyric for last; Angeleen is about a femme fatale of the heart, someone who brings only pain for those who love her. But he feels she'll meet her match, "If there is on Earth some kind of lover's justice." These are the kind of high-quality lyrics I'm far more used to hearing in the singer-songwriter world.

COLD OUTSIDE Bill Johnson (Independent) *****

A new Bill Johnson album is always cause for celebration and this is his 4th, joining Work Songs and Still Blue on my CD shelves. Cold Outside is EXTREMELY cool stuff.

 The pitfall for many a blues album is that many of the songs can sound the same- but that is most certainly not the case with Bill Johnson’s new record. So many different styles of blues amongst these 11 cuts, from the jump blues of Nine Dollar Bill to the slow burning, lonesome My Natural Ability. My old boss Brant Zwicker, host of At The Crossroads, ain’t lying when he says “Cold Outside may well be Bill Johnson’s most complete work to date.” I fell for Bill’s brand of the blues when he performed live for the AGM of The Victoria Blues Society a few years ago, snagged one of his CD’s at the gig, and have been a fan ever since.

 Cold Outside was produced by Bill along with drummer Joby Baker at Baker’s studio in Victoria, BC, Baker also being known for working with Mae Moore and Cowboy Junkies. I particularly enjoy the spatial arrangement of the instruments-guitar left, piano right, drums underneath it all… it feels live and natural, as if you were in the studio listening to them and watching as they play. No two songs are alike, and they range from downhearted blues to urgent, passionate fare, and the light-hearted jump blues of the aforementioned Nine Dollar Bill.

 What also sets Cold Outside apart as well is the stunning musicianship, particularly Bill Johnson’s inspired guitar work. I get a vicarious thrill from hearing a roomful of musicians pulling in the same direction, and The Bill Johnson Band works so well together it’s a delight to hear them play. This disc is a variety of blues styles (with a couple of streaks of country) played with the utter confidence of masters of their instruments- it’s isn’t just a good album, it’s a great one.

 ESSENTIALS: Angry Guitar, Nine Dollar Bill, Cold Outside

 

 

Translation from Dutch. 

On his recent album 'Cold Outside' Bill presents eleven songs where he shifts between the different styles of blues effortlessly. Johnson himself plays all the guitars and is assisted by bass, drums, piano and Hammond organ. Bill's fat guitar sound and David Vest's piano create the brilliant shuffle 'Baggage Blues', which is followed by the catchy West Coast swing 'Nine Dollar Bill'. Americana, with a strong dash of rocking country, is the foundation on which 'Night Train' is built. Cash shines through a little in the ballad carried by an acoustic guitar in 'Cold Outside', where Bill transforms his personal distress and misery into a beautiful song. The keyboard work of Darcy Phillips on piano and Hammond, together with a B. B. King guitar sound and Bill's  somewhat gravelly-sounding voice on 'My Natural Ability' create a classic blues ballad that will make your hair stand up. Pure class! But Bill can also rock. Just listen to 'Makes A Fella Nervous', where the police are on their tail. The lightly funky 'Angry Guitar' is reminiscent of Robert Cray. In 'Driftin' And Driftin'' Bill finally gets the resonator, with which he proudly poses on the inside of the digipack, from its case.

'Cold Outside' contains eleven class acts, an exceptional powerful voice and great musical performances by all musicians. Buy this CD!

 

Bill Johnson proposes a most interesting blues collection and adds not only colours but a variety of instruments, always in search of the appropriate tone and detail that pulls everything together, calling on the resonator guitar as well as the piano and organ for every detail to be perfect. It is with four decades devoted to the blues, this artist can offer us something new and genuinely inspired with titles like "Nine Dollar Bill", "My Natural Ability", "Free From My Trouble" "Driftin 'and Driftin'" and of course the tittle track, "Cold Outside," Bill Johnson shows us a world where elegance, class and delicacy are a trademark, and more understandably when you discover the bluesman put his career on hold while his wife, to whom he also dedicated the disc, was battling cancer. A man with heart, and a talented musician, Bill Johnson should without much effort satisfy lovers of beautiful melodies, (sometimes flavoured with country or folk)  but also the fans of the most demanding blues. We really like it!

by Fred Delforge

Translated from original French review.

Having paid his full dues, plus interest, accompanying Hubert Sumlin, Son Seals and a host of others, Bill Johnson has been doing his own thing in his native Canada, and beyond, for nearly 25 years. And whilst the blues is in his blood, and saturates the grooves of Cold Outside, his gravelly, often vulnerable singing straddles soul, country, blues and all those delicious amalgams in between, backed by a band sure-footed, skilled and sympathetic to his muse.

Introducing the album, ‘Baggage Blues’ radiates a warm, slightly overdriven vibe, sitting somewhere between the intimate urgency of John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed’s loping languidity. This, and ‘Makes A Fella Nervous’, remind us that blues is infectious live dance music as well as a salve for troubled souls. ‘Angry Guitar’ too, all bubbling bass, crisp drumming and pointed Hammond fills, is sure to be a live highlight, its logical, indulgence-free and fit-perfect guitar breaks providing ideal seasoning for a blues on the perennial woman difficulties theme.

Johnson and company’s exemplary swinging jump blues, ‘Nine Dollar Bill’, demonstrates Bill’s mastery of jazz-flavoured T-Bone Walker guitar with glissando piano helping underscore the message, "Don't call it jazz, it's my West Coast jumping blues” and “Ain't no outside note like Charlie Parker used."

‘My Natural Ability’ simmers with piano-driven late-night Little Willie John heartache, Johnson’s careworn vocal rich with soulful hurt, a feeling reprised in the bleakness and semi-spoken desolate country of ‘Cold Outside’, where, harrowingly, "My only friend I got seems to be a drug dealer".

And if ‘Driftin' And Driftin'’, a personal highlight, is five magnificent minutes of restrained country soul, there is a built-in nagging tension. Is the protagonist carefree or otherwise, drifting from day to day through choice or loss? "When this time of mine is done, I'll drift back home to you" gives the answer as a telling final line denouément

The country blues of ‘True Love’ sashays along with call and response vocals and faultlessly-judged bottleneck guitar and blues piano, whereas ‘Night Train’ is a Western soundtrack looking for a movie, and in terms of quality is worthy of bracketing with Marty Robbins or Tom Russell.

Signing off, the country soul guitar solo of ‘Angeleen’ is as evocative of Johnson’s regret as his Willie Nelson phrasing.

That’s stellar company to be in.

The blues has a shape that means not much can be done if you want to change it from within. So what makes a good blues album better is subtlety. Getting the right weight, the tone, the feel. Subtlety. It’s what makes Bill Johnson’s Cold Outside better than the average blues album. Fronting what essentially is a trio, Johnson acquits himself well on guitar and, smartly, sings with an understanding of the character he is playing in his songs. There is slyness à la Louie Jordan in Nine Dollar Bill, humour à la Chuck Berry in Makes A Fella Nervous, a few one-liners in the otherwise sombre title track, funk à la Albert King in Angry Guitar and, generally, a believability in his delivery.

BILL JOHNSON/Cold Outside: Here’s an interesting change of pace. One of the fathers of the roots scene in British Columbia keeps it blues rootsy but he’s putting in psychological lyrics like he’s tired of handling the baggage someone else handed you. Ain’t that a ways away from picking cotton while still keeping it real? A original throughout that’s earned high praise and recognition across the border, he’s sending his energy south to grab our ears and it’s going to work. A sure handed pro, there’s nothing hokey about his approach or his chops and this is pure and simple boomer music for those that want it real and fearlessly traversing the back 40. Tasty stuff throughout that keeps the house rocking.

The Toronto Blues Society's Maple News review of Cold Outside.

Victoria’s Bill Johnson is one of those veteran artists who don’t tour much but whose reputation is spread through word of mouth. With his talents as a songwriter, singer and guitarist, I guess that’s our loss and Victoria’s gain. 
His occasional CDs, and especially this new one, will have to do. Just listen to the opening “Baggage Blues” with its lyrics about what a woman brings to a new relationship. Fellow Victoria resident David Vest helps out on piano here and on a couple of others.“(Call me) Nine Dollar Bill (don’t you make me change)” is a slice of West Coast Jump Blues with rather more clever word play than just the title.
"Cold Outside” is just about the bleakest song I’ve heard about someone’s troubles and I suspect much of it is autobiographical. The cover photo says it all. The jaunty, slide-driven “True Love” with its group vocal chorus and Vest on piano is a welcome pick me up. The cover shot theme continues with “My Natural Ability (to lose)”, a very fine slow blues nonetheless. Vest returns for the final time on the retro rocker “Makes A Fella Nervous” - shades of Jerry Lee Lewis. “Free From My Trouble” probably doesn’t need much more from me. He concludes with a couple of country-ish tunes that weren’t quite as interesting. For all his troubles, Johnson has still managed to release an excellent disc. 
His guitar playing is as inventive as his songwriting and his band gives him all the support he needs. Go to billjohnsonblues dot com to gets yours. Enough people heard about his last album, Still Blue, to get it nominated for the Blues Juno. So spread the word.

Those of you who receive these review emails, those of you who regularly visit our website, and those of you who received copies of our "Mary4Music Presents: Keeping The Blues Alive"compilation CD series should be quite familiar with the name Bill Johnson. 
- Back in 2010 we reviewed his "Still Blue" CD
- That same year Bill was awarded a "Blewzzy Award" for that CD
being my favorite of all the discs I reviewed that year, and a song
from that CD - "Half The Man" - earned Bill an additional "Blewzzy
Award" as my favorite song of over hundreds of songs from those discs.
- In 2012 that same song - "Half The Man" - appeared on the debut
"Keeping The Blues Alive Volume One" CD. - In 2015 another song of Bill's titled "Another One" appeared on "Keeping The Blues Alive Volume Seven" Now Bill's back with another dynamite disc and I just can't wait to tell you about it. 

Review



On "Cold Outside" - his fourth release - Bill Johnson, on guitars and vocals, is joined by: Rick Erickson on bass; Darcy Phillips on piano & organ; Ross Hall on drums; Joby Baker on drums plus song on bass: and David Vest on piano. The disc contains eleven original tracks that include a well rounded mix of traditional, swing, rock, funk, soul and roots blues.

The disc opens with "Baggage Blues" and as the title seems to indicate, it's about a relationship involving some past hardships. To his regret, Bill's woman keeps handing him the baggage that someone else has given her...and it's starting to get quite heavy. Musically, it's one of the more straight up blues tracks. Rick and Ross are right in the pocket on the rhythm, David's smokin' on the piano and Bill slammin' out some blues on both the guitar and the vocals. Real great track. 

Hit the floor dancers! As Bill say's "Don't call it jazz, it's my west coast blues. Ain't no outside notes, like Charlie Parker used". Yeah, he may be "one buck short of ten" but "Nine Dollar Bill" - and everyone else, for that matter - are killing it on this one. Relentless from start to finish. 

His wife was sick while his mother was dying. He's at the end of his rope he's nearly finished tryin'. He couldn't find a job and he was close to hitting bottom. He tried to call his friends but it seems he hasn't got 'em. He even called his preacher but the preacher never called him back. The bank took his house he's bust and he's broken. He's in desperate need of a soul healer but the only friend he has is a drug dealer. Nobody really knows you when you're down, it's "Cold Outside". If any of these, or the rest of the bone chilling lyrics are true - and I happen to sadly know that some are - is it any wonder Bill Johnson sings the blues? Although there's somewhat of an eerie melody going on behind him, this track's pretty much all Bill. From the somber and heartfelt delivery of the melancholy lyrics to the intriguing sound of his slide guitar, Bill puts his heart and soul into one hell of a performance on this one. 

This song opens with Bill saying "I've got an inclination for the blues and a natural ability to lose". Now that may be true but the man also has a "Natural Ability" to belt the hell out of the blues as well. He's at disc's best right here. His soulful vocals are as convincingly painful as his stinging guitar leads. Also at disc's best is Darcy. His seventy second piano and organ intro immediately had me knowing I'd be listening to some amazing blues....and indeed I did. Here's the Blewzzman's ultimate compliment Bill - not only do I think this song's the one to beat for this year's Blewzzy but it's song of the year material as well. You nailed this one, my friend.

This one's called "Makes A Fella Nervous" but it had this fella rockin & rollin'. Lyrically it's a song about paranoia and musically its a song about.....well.....paranoia. Rick, Joby and David are rockin' the rhythm on bass, drums and piano, Bill's rockin' out on guitar and the whole song just screams rock & roll. Rockin' good job guys.

"Driftin' and Driftin'" is easily the most beautiful song of the lot. It's a love ballad with a fifties and a bit of a country feel, and everything about it is perfect. The rhythm is totally relaxing, Bill's soft and emotional singing is transcending and his pickin' and strummin' on the National Resonator are flawless and masterful. At five and a half minutes, it's one of the disc's longer tracks but man I could have handled it being an hour and a half. 

Other songs on "Cold Outside" include: "Night Train""True Love""Free From My Troubles""Angry Guitar", and "Angeleen"

Right about now is when you should be going over to www.billjohnsonblues.com. While you're there, make sure you read his bio. The guy has played with so many of the genres giants you'll think you're reading the lineup of a month of blues festivals. And please, don't forget to tell him the Blewzzman sent you. 

Peter "Blewzzman" Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 Keeping The Blues Alive Award Recipient 

"Still Blue - Still Great" ★★★★★ !!!

 

 

CD Baby Editors Pick !!!

 

 

Bill Johnson contributes eight originals to his Still Blue, each one a fine example of a contemporary blues song, not merely a retread of a familiar 12 bar theme, and each sung in his evocative voice. The variety of approaches, from the sneaky slide on “Another One” to the crisp lead guitar midway between Cray and Knopfler on “Habitual Survivor” is invigorating. Very hip phrases and a hard-luck lyric make the minor-key “Half The Man” stand out. Johnson shows he can reliably deliver straight blues on his shuffle “Old Les Paul Guitar” and three well-chosen covers from Slim Harpo, T-Bone Walker, and Howlin’ Wolf. Lee Roy Parnell’s roadhouse rocker “Red Hot” rounds out the set. A gem of an album!

 

 

By Tom Hyslop, Blues Revue Magazine

 

 

 

 


 

"I am not in the least surprised that Bill was nominated for Best Blues Album for the 2012 JunosFrom the opening track Fishing With Your Boots On, all the way to the last note of Remote Control Man, this album kept me mesmerized! A must for any Blues collection!"
– EB-Bluesday CKUW, Winnipeg MB

 

 

Still Blue - Bill Johnson                                                          Reviewed 2012

"An excellent well developed example of how to perform contemporary blues in a clear, concise form. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Bill Johnson reveals his interpretative potential with elegance and wisdom, not only in his beautifully phrased guitar work, but also as singer and composer." 

 

 "In short words, this is a first-rate album, cool, intense, with all the ingredients a good blues record should contain, to be slowly and calmly savored, and enjoyed from the beginning to the end." 

RATING  GREAT 

Translated from Spanish

 

 

I just got this one today and I really like it. I mean I really like it! This is a well composed rockin blues party. You gotta imagine I listen to a lot of music and a lot of it just plays in the background. This one made me stop and listen. 

 

 

BILL JOHNSON - STILL BLUE

 

Bill Johnson, the name might not say much to you at this time, but we hope with “Still Blue” this will change soon. The man started as a 9 year old playing the guitar and according to his own saying was in the beginning mainly influenced by Chuck Berry, the Stones and Eric Clapton. Later on he studied the styles of  BB King and Elmore James among others. In 2006 he was nominated for the Maple Blues Award "Best Guitarist" for his cd simply titled “Live”. Not taking a break he continued working on another surprising authentic Country-blues style album called “Worksongs”.

With this cd "Still Blue" he's opened doors to the European Blues fans/lovers. Eight self written or co-written songs and four excellent covers together made an album which grabs your attention from the beginning until the end.

 

Our End-year chart list was already in when we wrote this review, otherwise sympathetically this Canadian would have been part of it.

 

The covers of  Walker’s “T-Bone Blues” and Willie Dixon’s “300 Pounds Of Heavenly Joy”, are excellent examples of a perfectly done job. These two and Bill Johnson’s own songs are of the same high quality level.

We could not help but pick out one song. The phenomenal “Half The Man”, with brilliant guitar work, is a real candidate for blues song of the year. Sometimes it makes me think of Al Stone, and then again Chris Rea. The magnificent soulful singing, a two and a half minute guitar solo that even would have Eric Clapton applauding, completes it really as a world class song.

 

But nevertheless, it seems wrong to pick just one out. It doesn’t do justice to other songs like “Experience” in which you hear a screaming slide, or “Worked To Death”, a great  Chicago-Blues-song.

We would say listen to the entire album, and find that together with Rick Erickson (bass and vocals), John Hunter (drums and vocals), and Darcy Philips (keyboards and vocals), Bill Johnson  has made a fantastic release that we highly recommend.

 

Originally written in Dutch and translated by Robbert Smits

Rootstime is located in Belgium. 

 

 

 The Blues Underground Network

Year End Review 2011

Best Canadian Blues Recording..........................Bill Johnson/Still Blue,

Best Blues Song..............................................Bill Johnson/Another One,

Top Ten International Blues Recording - #1........ Bill Johnson/Still Blue".

 

                             "An unbelievable honour! Thank you."   - Bill Johnson

 

It’s a great album, I was very impressed with the songs, the recording and the whole package…top twenty this year….." Johnny Max, HAZE FM

 

“Still Blue” Bill Johnson (Independent) **** +

I’ve been a fan since I saw Bill play at an annual general meeting of the Victoria Blues Society a couple of years ago.  This follow up to 2007’s magnificent “Work Songs” was released in 2010, and is currently up for the WCMA Best Blues Recording, and no wonder- it is supple and magnificent, likely his breakout album.

Bill’s been playing guitar since age 9, but it wasn’t the blues that got to him first. “Chuck Berry is the one that did it for me” Johnson notes on his website. “Chuck made me want to play.”  That much is obvious when you listen to a song like “Red Hot”. In the 70’s and 80’s he was drawn into the blues by studying masters such as BB King and T-Bone Walker, and hasn’t looked back since.

Where “Work Songs” was rough around the edges in a very satisfying way “Still Blue” is more polished.  Unlike other bluesmen such as his friend David Gogo, Johnson prefers a more laid back approach to the blues. “My music isn’t aboutenergy, energy, energy” he told me in an email, “I have many different feels; finger style, slide, flat picked, fast, lyrical, laid back., swampy- I suppose it’s all about what you like.”  That’s why “Still Blue” works so well- it’s a combination of styles that works when you get all these songs together. From the fun loving and up tempo “300 Pounds Of Heavenly Joy” (I first heard it by Howlin’ Wolf) to the slow, lonesome burn of a song like “Half The Man”, Johnson touches all the bases.  His voice certainly suits the blues, and as guitarist I’d put him in the same league as Duke Robillard, he’s that good.  If you’re into the blues but don’t yet know Bill Johnson, get started with a visit to CD Baby.

Sweet Spots; “Half The Man”, “Fishing With Your Boots On”, “Worked To Death”, “300 Pounds Of Heavenly Joy”

 

 


Toronto Blues Society - Maple Blues Awards

2011 Nominated For:

  • Best Song Writer..........................Still Blue/Bill Johnson 
  • Best Electric Artist........................Still Blue/Bill Johnson
  • Best Blues Recording....................Still Blue/Bill Johnson

2006 Nominated For:

  • Best Guitarist...............................LIVE/Bill Johnson

"Still Blue" was released in 2010 and was described as Bill Johnson's breakout CD, a statement I find hard to believe, yet not surprising, as I know an awful lot of great Blues Artists, particularly in Canada, for whom the mainstream of so called Blues Music Fans, have just not yet woken up to. It is certainly a sad commentary when an Artist, as talented as Bill Johnson is, still remain widely unknown, despite all the contributions they have made to the Canadian Blues Scene. Recognition however, for what I consider to not only be Bill Johnson's best work to date, but also what I consider to be one of the better Blues Albums I have had the good fortune to listen to, so far for 2011, did not take long to materialize, with "Still Blue" winning not one, but two Blewzzy Awards from the highly respected Mary4Music.com, 2010 Best Blues CD and 2010 Best Song "Half the Man". This in addition to many rave reviews, will hopefully be the catalyst needed to wake up a lot of Blues fans to Bill's music.


"Still Blue" consists of 12 great Tracks of Bill Johnson style blues, of which eight were either written or co-written by Bill, essentially, the first half of the album and and two Tracks on the second half. Sandwiched in between the amazing songs that Bill wrote were 4 great choices for Covers, "300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy" (Willie Dixon), "Red Hot" (Lee Roy Parnell & Chris Moore), King Bee (James Moore aka Slim Harpo), and T-Bone Blues (T-Bone Walker). All Covers were interpreted to perfection with the addition of Bill Johnson's brilliance that would certainly make any of the originators proud. Joining in on this production were musicians Rick Erickson (Bass), John Hunter/Joby Baker (Drums), David Vest (Piano), and Darcy Phillips (B3 Organ). Background Vocalists included Bob Belknap and Lisa Mann. 

"Still Blue" is an album that had no problem captivating me from the opening Guitar Riff of the first Track and once Bill Johnson's singing kicked in, well to say the least, I was hooked and more then happy to be along for the ride. With hooks and harmonies so addictive. I was very happy this release wasn't on Vinyl, because for sure I would of been wearing out many a record needle the amount of times I would of been playing this one. For sure, Bill Johnson has his own unique style of Blues, which he has managed to blend perfectly from the masters he has learned so well from, by studying their music. This special style comes through loud and clear, be it his lyrics, his music, or his vocals. From the opening and fun to listen Track "Fishing with Your Boots", to the spellbinding "Half the Man" to the closing Track "Remote Control Man", a piano laden smoky bar room gem, Bill Johnson manages to take us on one hell of a great Bluesy Ride. 

In the liner notes of "Still Blue" Bill Johnson states that "I am forty six years old, I believe all you need is love, and I'm still blue". Well Bill if that is what it takes for you to put out great albums, such as this one, then please do carry on.

I have no problem giving "Still Blue", my highest rating of 5*****. It is an Album that I not only thoroughly enjoyed, but one that I also highly recommend for any lover of really good blues.

Review by John Vermilyea (Blues Underground Network)

 

 

 

 

 Two Blewzy Awards for 2010 !  "Best Album"    "Best Song"

I'd like to congratulate Bill Johnson on his - the first ever - double win. When I first started working on this disc I literally listened to "Half The Man" so many times I couldn't even fathom a guess as to the number. The song is sung with so much feeling and emotion and the guitar playing is absolutely masterful. As for the disc itself - "Still Blue" - I'd put it up against any disc I've heard....ever. From start to finish, song after song, the vocals and musicianship are flawless and extraordinary. 

 

 

"A great sounding album with enjoyable tracks, vocals, and a fine calibre of musicians along. It hit's the spot with some classic blues sounds, and well produced too. Right up my blues alley."

 


 
"I didn't want this CD to finish - but when it did I went back to the beginning and started listening all over again!" Great songs, great voice and I love Bill's guitar playing. I'll be playing 2 tracks on my Blues Show on Sunday Jan 8th, 6-8pm Uk time at  BishopFM.com
 
Gary Grainger,  UK


It's been over five years since Bill Johnson was on our stage in front of a sell out crowd at the Crescent Beach Legion. It was Saturday September 8th when Bill took the stage for our "Blues Night Out Show" and mesmerized the audience with his guitar style & tone that matched perfectly with his powerful vocals. His band delivers a tight and powerful sound. Within the first few beats the audience was drawn toward to the dance floor where it seemed most camped out for the night. 

There are two traditional ways of determining the popularity of a band; the numbers on the dance floor and the amount of cold beverage consumed during the evening. At the end of the night I was told by one of the exausted barkeepers they set a new record for sales. 

 

 

 

"All in all, a well done album, unpretentious (big compliment from me) and straightforward, with lots of believable, intune singing and good blues feel in the solos. Plenty to be proud of. Thanks for sharing the good music."

 

Bruce Iglauer

Founder and Head of Alligator Records

 

 


 ‎"Still Blue" is a great album! Everything about it shines, the writing, the production, the vocals and those musicians, just drivin' it!

 

 

 


Western Canada Music Association 2011 Nominated for "Best Blues Recording - Still Blue Bill Johnson

CD Review for Still Blue

 

Mr. Johnson jumped into view as a nominee for Guitarist of the Year in 2006. This Victoria-based bluesman jammed onstage after the Awards Show and left behind a couple of impressive CDs. This new one is even better. Johnson leads a unit that should be far better known. Rick Erickson is on bass & vocals, John Hunter on drums & vocals and Darcy Philips is on keyboards & vocals. They perform working class blues at its best, starting with some advice set to a most infectious groove, “Don’t Go Fishing With Your Boots On”. “Habitual Survivor” is a fine soul blues chronicling the life of a woman on the streets, sung with much more sympathy than one hears elsewhere. “Worked To Death” takes the perspective of someone who cannot afford to rest. This one’s straight ahead Chicago blues. “Experience” is about life experience, from someone who’s seen his share, with a storming slide guitar. “Another One” sees him at a bar in Mexico, saying ‘Charlie, here’s my keys, hand me that glass’, over a T-Birds rhythm.  He can do a slow blues too: ‘If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, why am I “Half The Man” I used to be’. Powerful stuff. “Old Les Paul Guitar” may be closer to home than the others, it being about a struggling musician. He takes on some standards to conclude the program and does them up very well. He has song samples at www.billjohnsonblues.com so you can check these songs out for yourself. The Victoria Blues Society is sending him to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge in February, maybe he can arrange a stopover so we can catch him live.

 

 

 




By Peter "Blewzzman" Lauro, © December 2010

Bill Johnson

"Still Blue"

On his newest CD, Bill Johnson - on vocals and guitars - is joined by Rick Erickson on bass, John Hunter and Joby Baker on drums, David Vest on piano, Darcy Phillips on B3 organ, and Bob Belknap and Lisa Mann on background vocals. The disc, titled "Still Blue", contains twelve very blue tracks of which eight are originals. After several previous listens, I've come to the conclusion that I could easily say something good about them all.

On one of his original tracks, Bill describes an ailment that he, as well as most of us, is suffering from - and even his doctor doesn't have a remedy for it. He's being "Worked To Death". Welcome to the club Bill. Good guitar work and vocals backed up by a strong progressive rhythm.

"Half The Man" is an absolutely phenomenal track with sensational guitar work. I swear, when it was over, I felt like applauding. It opens with one hell of a guitar highlight followed by intense, soulful vocals. Then, halfway through this five minute song, Bill goes off on a two and a half minute, song ending solo, equal to the mastery that Ronnie Earl has over his guitar. What a great song, and an original at that.

It may be a song about a guitar, but all the instruments are smokin' on the jammin' "Old Les Paul Guitar". Yes, Bill is superb on guitar as well is David on piano.

The only way to describe this track is to say that everyone's totally "Red Hot". It's a smoker done in the wild style of the wild one himself - Jerry Lee Lewis. Of course that means lot's of hot piano leads, and damn hot they are. Rockin' good stuff right here.

As been the case with most of the tracks on the CD, this is "Another One" where the rhythm section's nailing it. This time it's John leading the way with his solid drum work. Vocally, with beautiful support from Lisa, this is one of the best.

Reminiscent of the late Barkin' Bill, the vocals on "T-Bone Blues" are spectacular. That, combined with the beautifully soft rhythms of Rick, John and David on the bass, drums and piano all make this smooth shuffle another of the disc's many good tunes.

"Remote Control Man" is a short, humorous track that may use different terminology but it boils right down to Bill's woman having him in the palm of her hands. David does some wonderfully light piano playing on this wonderfully lighthearted song.

Other tracks on "Still Blue" include: "Fishing With Your Boots On", "Habitual Survivor", "Experience", "Three Hundreds Pounds Of Heavenly Joy"(something I'm often described as), and "King Bee".

With the year coming to an end, it's closing in on that time where I will soon have to pick the winner of the 2010 Blewzzy Award and I may have just listened to it.

Visit Bill Johnson on the Web at www.billjohnsonblues.com. When you do, tell him that the Blewzzman says he one listener who's happy that Bill Johnson is still blue and I hope he stays blue. 

Combining superb guitar work with strong vocals over a pleasing range of blues genres this is an extremely satisfying album that gets better with every listen.  Johnson"s original songs are finely crafted.  They subtly evoke themes from old favorites while remaining fresh and vibrant.  Johnson also breathes new life into old standards and pays homage to some of his musical influences such as T-Bone Walker.  But his powerful musical voice is always his own.  The long fluid and highly lyrical guitar lines are especially effective.  Each solos tells its own story and complements the lyrical mood perfectly.  His guitar weeps, laughs, jokes, flirts, and buys you a drink.  It takes experience to play like that!

 

 

 

 

 

 


I think this album is really fantastic!

 

As you well know I've designed and listened to A LOT of blues over the last 20 years (though i am a newbie compared to you well-grizzled blues vets) and this is the kind of blues I love

 

Think of seventies radio friendly hits with memorable melodies, big juicy licks, and monster hooks, both instrumentally as well as lyrically.

 

Songs that actually stick in your head to become favourite classics down the road that you actually want to sing.

 

Michael Wrycraft is a Juno award winning album art designer in the top of his field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"To my ears, he's the very best electric blues guitarist in the country"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"This Man is a Canadian Treasure"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first review was very positve, but this short description has stuck with me. BJ

 

 

"Less is more elegance from Victoria's Blues Guitar Flamethrower"

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