Alfred "Snuff" Johnson

Texas country bluesman Alfred "Snuff" Johnson has played guitar since the 1920s, but didn't perform "professionally" for another 60 years, and wasn't recorded until 1994. Johnson was born in Cedar Creek, TX to parents Frank and Pearl Lee Johnson, who were sharecroppers. His father often played the fiddle with his uncle, Will Johnson, a guitarist. Both had an effect on the young Johnson, who watched and listened intently. Eventually, he was allowed to pick up his uncle's guitar. It was also about this time -- around the age of 12 -- that he began using snuff and earned his nickname. His uncle threw country balls regularly, which featured slow dancing, folk blues, and country tunes. The music heard at these in fluenced Snuff's repertoire, as did seeing Mance Lipscomb perform a few times. Snuff's relaxed style includes a steady thumb-strummed bassline that reflects Lipscomb's influence. Johnson began playing his "black cowboy blues at house parties and balls, but also played guitar in church. He settled in Austin after being discharged from the army in 1945 and remained there, working in construction, at a service station and, finally, as a piano mover. He played out (although not for pay) during the '50s and '60s, and in the mid-'70s, met an auto mechanic who happened to be working on a Gibson guitar. Snuff picked it up and played it a bit, starting a friendship with the man. The mechanic was a music fan, Charles Devitalis, who went on to serve as informal advisor to Snuff, who couldn't read or write. After retiring in 1976, Snuff focused on his family (he has 13 children from three marriages) and the church. His material includesre-compositionss of old blues standards such as "Good Morning Blues" and "post-gospel, camp meeting era" religious songs, including hymns like "Going Back to Jesus" and "Old Time Religion." Johnson's performed first professional shows in the late '80s, when he was invited to perform at Austin's Continental Club, and Antone's. He turned down an Austin producer's recording offer in the early '90s, and shortly after was invited by Alan Govenar to play at the Dallas Museum of Art. The following year, Govenar brought Snuff back to Dallas to record, resulting in the 1994 Documentary Arts release, Black Cowboy Blues and Church Songs. ~ Joslyn Layne