Lonnie Johnson: Falling Rain Blues
Falling Rain Blues
Lonnie Johnson (violin, vocals)
Lonnie Johnson Vol. 1 (1925-1926) (Document Records)
Lonnie Johnson (violin, vocals),
John Arnold (piano).
Composed by Lonnie Johnson.
Recorded: St. Louis, MO, November 4, 1925
Rating: 89/100 (learn more)
This was Lonnie Johnson's first hit (backed with "Mr. Johnson's Blues"). Instead of his noted guitar, he plays violin, the instrument his father started him on, to accompany his singing. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, there is no digitally remastered copy of this song; the old, scratchy 78 record—and acoustically recorded at that—is all that's available, which tends to be tough for some to listen to. (A well-performed and well-recorded version was, in coming-full-circle manner, the last song on his final major recordings in 1967, Lonnie Johnson - The Complete Folkways Recordings; he plays guitar on that track.)
The general historical importance of this recording, beyond beginning a great career, is that Johnson took the expressive capacity of the violin and applied it to the guitar, which contributed to how he changed guitar-playing and popular music in general. Now, to many the idea of blues violin playing might seem like an oxymoron. But Johnson adds to his singing interesting and inventive lines on the violin, with a blues feel, and an extended bridge in the middle; the violin work complements well the vocal lines. Johnson's singing in these 1920s recordings was merely pretty good to good; from the late 1940s on his singing had become outstanding to great (such as on "Don't Ever Love" and "Mr. Blues Walks"). His guitar playing during that period was masterful.
Editor's Note: At the time of this posting, the Amazon.com Download Links provided with this review had the wrong album cover, but connected respectively to the right track.
Reviewer: Dean Alger