Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang: Midnight Call Blues
Midnight Call Blues
Lonnie Johnson (guitar)
Lonnie Johnson Vol. 5 (1929-1930) (Document Records)
Recorded: New York, October 9, 1929
Rating: 98/100 (learn more)
At least three of the nine other extraordinary guitar duets recorded by Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang in 1928-29 are better known than this track (one being "Have to Change Keys to Play These Blues"). But this track is my favorite.
As best we can tell, there was a basic agreement as to the essential structure of what they were going to play on these recordings, but there was ample room left for improvisation; and improvise these two early masters did, in such exquisite, innovative and moving ways that the duets became landmarks in guitar history.
In these duets, Johnson used a uniquely tuned 12-string guitar (to the best of our understanding). The artistry this afforded the virtuoso Johnson is most strikingly heard on this track. At the beginning, he creates a fascinating zither-like sound, giving a wonderful, exotic feel, ringing above Lang's rhythmic and harmonic foundation, rising to musical heights and elegantly descending. Then, in the third chorus, the musical feel changes, as Lang takes a one-chorus lead, playing a simple but deep-toned bluesy line while Johnson strums chord backings that, on that 12-string, are so rich it strikes the ear like a combination harp-zither-guitar. They finish out the song with the usual brighter-sounding, sophisticated, inventive lead lines by Johnson, all combining in a beautiful thematic coherence. I can't think of anything else that sounds quite like this.
The sophisticated interplay and combined artistry on these duets by an African-American from New Orleans and an Italian-American from Philadelphia, in the first full-partner interracial recordings, is something special—in music and in American society.
Reviewer: Dean Alger