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Johnnie Bassett

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Biography

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Johnnie Bassett grew up with blues music all around him in his native Florida. His unique ability to combine jump blues and Delta stylings gave his playing a distinctive sound. The self-taught guitarist recalled seeing Tampa Red, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, and other classic blues artists at fish fries in his grandmother's backyard. Bassett cited Aaron "T-Bone" Walker as a major influence, as well as B.B. and Albert King, Tiny Grimes, and Billy Butler. After Bassett's family moved to Detroit in 1944, he made his debut as a guitarist with Joe Weaver & the Bluenotes, a teenage R&B band. The group won local talent contests and was hired to back up Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, and others on their tour stops in Detroit. Bassett went into the Army in 1958 and played in a country & western group while stationed in Washington state. After returning to Detroit, he found work as a session guitarist for Fortune Records by day and in nightclubs at night. In the studios, he played backup to musicians and groups like Nolan Strong & the Diablos, Andre Williams & the Don Juans, and the Five Dollars. He also played guitar on the first recording by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles while traveling to Chicago to record as a session man for the Chess Records label. During his Detroit days, he also accompanied John Lee Hooker, Eddie Burns, Alberta Adams, Lowell Fulson, and the T.J. Fowler Band at their live shows, as well as Dinah Washington. In the 1960s, Bassett moved to Seattle, where he backed up Tina Turner, Little Willie John, and others. Jimi Hendrix was a frequent guest at the bluesman's club gigs around Seattle. Before the decade ended, he moved back to Detroit, where he was based for the remainder of his life. In 1994, Bassett received a lifetime achievement award from the Detroit Blues Society. He later recorded an album for the Dutch Black Magic label, I Gave My Life to the Blues (1996). Bassett and his band, the Blues Insurgents, made several U.S., Canadian, and European tours in support of LPs including 1997's Bassett Hound and 1998's Cadillac Blues. After the turn of the millennium, Bassett released two albums on the Sly Dog imprint of Mack Avenue Records, 2009's The Gentleman Is Back and 2012's I Can Make That Happen. After battling cancer, Johnnie Bassett died in August 2012 at the age of 76. ~ Richard Skelly
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