ROBERT JOHNSON was already known as one of the best Memphis guitarists long before he recorded his first solo album for Ron Alexenburg’s ill-fated record company. Robert’s body of work stretches back to when he was only 13 years old backing up Jim “Gomer Pyle” Nabors and years later, his garage band was one of the first recording acts signed to the legendary Ardent Records.
Enough though Robert was gaining a Memphis reputation as a whiz-kid guitarist, he continued his high school studies. The music business kept calling him after a stint working part time at Staxx Recording studio in town, he was asked to play guitar on an album Stax was working on. It was an album entitled “Hot Buttered Soul” featuring the iconic Isaac Hayes. Isaac Hayes was so impressed, he asked the then 17-year old “RJ” to be a permanent member of his touring band.
“RJ” toured with Isaac for a year-and-half including Isaac Hayes memorable concert at The Apollo Theater. He then later cut records with Solomon Burke, Rufus Thomas, Luther Ingraham (including his 1972 top ten record, “If Loving You Is Wrong”), Willie Mitchell and other Hi Records recording artists, like Ann Peebles.
In 1975, “RJ” went to London to be a part of John Entwistle’s solo band Ox. He also auditioned for The Rolling Stones to fill the spot vacated by departing Mick Taylor. “RJ” was 23 at the time and by all accounts, it was his youth and “Americanism” that resulted in “RJ” being passed over losing the gig to Ron Wood.
As The Who reunited and Entwistle rejoined his band mates, “RJ” formed his own band. His first solo album mentioned earlier, “Close Personal Friend” was partially recorded in New York and at Memphis’ Ardent Studios. “RJ” called on Stax drummers, Willie Hall and Blair Cunningham and his friend/longtime musical collaborator, local bassist David Cochran.
“RJ”s solo album” established Robert Johnson as a rocker to contend with. His garage band roots, crafted power hooks later became the bridge melding Big Sur country rock, Elvis Costello/Stiff Records punk scene with a little bit of home-grown Memphis soul thrown in for good measure. “Close Personal Friend” is most circles is considered a classic power-pop record and if you listen to it, you may hear echoes reverberate the musical ground made famous by Rick Springfield, OneRepublic, The Cars, Train and the late Paul Young, to name a few.
In recent years, “RJ” has turned to producing and his latest project is a charitable tribute to Linda McCartney and the 65th anniversary of the 45 rpm single. “For The Love of Linda” EP featuring Little Anthony (Gourdine), Living Colour and the grandfathers of rap, “Rapper’s Delight” is currently being mixed. The Sir Paul McCartney song EP will be included along with an 18-month calendar highlighting the Beatle lyric art of Alan Aldridge. The calendar/EP will be available worldwide in late Spring 2014.