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Margaret Johnson (1923-1927)

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Album Review

In 1996 the Document label released a collection of 23 recordings made by vocalist Margaret Johnson during the years 1923-1927. Her strong presence and theatrically precise delivery are traits that were developed in the roving cauldron of the vaudeville circuit, which took her through Augusta, GA; Baltimore; New York; and Puerto Rico — later engagements found her performing in locales as distant and varied as Pittsburgh, PA, and Hillsborough, TX. When not busy ricocheting around the country, she found time to make records in New York with several of the toughest instrumentalists on the scene at that time. On tracks one through nine she is accompanied by either Clarence Williams' Harmonizers or his Blue Five, no-nonsense jazz bands collectively stocked with cornetists Thomas Morris, Louis Armstrong, and Bubber Miley; trombonists Aaron Thompson and Charlie Irvis; saxophonists Ernest Elliott and Sidney Bechet; as well as banjoist Buddy Christian. In addition to pared-down piano accompaniments by Williams and Bob Ricketts, she is heard with various smaller units that included Morris, clarinetist Bob Fuller, pianists Mike Jackson and Porter Grainger, mouth organist Robert Cooksey, and guitarist Bobby Leecan. While each song in the collection has substance and merit, several titles deserve special consideration. "If I Let You Get Away with It Once (You'll Do It All of the Time)" was destined to be revisited by Tampa Red on a feisty Bluebird recording in the mid-'30s. Unfortunately but not surprisingly for its time, "E Flat Blues" (which is much nicer as an instrumental performed by Thomas Morris' Past Jazz Masters) is sullied by racist lyrics. "Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning" is a fine piece of blues that was recorded by numerous other women during the early '20s, and was most memorably interpreted by Alberta Hunter. Its most persuasive line is "I could kill you faster than an express train." "Who'll Chop Your Suey When I'm Gone" was written by Sidney Bechet. The only thing it appears to have in common with "Suey," a stomp recorded by him in 1941, is the word "Suey" itself. Last but not least, "When a 'Gator Holler, Folks Say It's a Sign of Rain" is a song that everyone ought to hear at least once. For those who need it twice, an alternate take is provided.


Genre: Fiction

Years Active: '20s

Although lumped together with many female classic blues singers from the '20s, Margaret Johnson's career was a bit more diverse, including her recording output. She was one of the few female vocalists of her era that made records with a strong country blues influence, particularly the collaborations involving the harmonica-and-guitar team of Bobby Leecan and Robert Cooksey. Of course, she also took part in sessions typical of this era, which combined blues singing with extremely strong New Orleans...
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Margaret Johnson (1923-1927), Margaret Johnson
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