Purveying his own brand of Louisiana music that he christened swamp blues since the 1950s, Lazy Lester was born today in 1933 and shows no sign of retiring.
Blues singer/guitarist/harmonica player Leslie Johnson aka Lazy Lester was born in Torras, Louisiana. Inspired by hearing Little Walter’s 1952 instrumental hit “Juke” to learn the harmonica, Leslie began playing and singing in local groups around Baton Rouge.
A chance meeting on a bus with bluesman Lightnin’ Slim saw Leslie tag along with the guitarist to a recording session for Excello Records, where he deputised for a non-attending harmonica player – and ended up joining Slim’s band.
Excello duly took note of Johnson’s talent and signed him as a solo artist, releasing his first single in 1957, “I’m Gonna Leave You Baby” appearing under the name of Lazy Lester, a creation of producer Jay Miller, who didn’t think Leslie Johnson had quite the same ring…
Within a year what became Lester’s trademark tune had been issued as a single, “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter”, with further R & B hits such as “I Hear You Knockin’” and “Pondarosa Stomp” following. And in addition to his own output, Lester was a regular performer on Excello recordings by various other artists including Slim Harpo and his former bandleader, Lightnin’ Slim plus more cajun and country-flavoured material.
Parting company with Excello in 1966 and drifting away from music, Lester took various menial jobs and was seldom seen performing live until attempting a comeback during the 1980s. Winning a WC Handy Award for his 1987 album, “Lazy Lester Rides Again” saw his Excello sides reissued and a string of bookings both in the USA and over in Europe.
Continuing to play live both solo and with a backing band (intermittently including Jimmie Vaughan, who covered Lester’s single “Sugar Coated Love” when in the Fabulous Thunderbirds), May 2012 saw Lester inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, along with Billy Boy Arnold, Mike Bloomfield, Buddy & Ella Johnson; Furry Lewis & Frank Stokes, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and producer Allen Toussaint.
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And here’s some footage of Lester in action: