community weblog - [ R.I.P. Johnnie Bassett ]

R.I.P. Johnnie Bassett

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Johnnie Bassett, 1935 - 2012

A few weeks ago, as we were working to put all the pieces together for both the NETA distributed public televison program and DVD release of "Detroit Blues & Beyond," word filtered down that one of Johnnie Bassett's band mates had taken him directly from a gig to the hospital and that he was in critical care. The outpouing of prayer and support that ensued is a testament to how beloved Johnnie is but was not enough to make a miracle happen. Johnnie Bassett succumbed to liver cancer in hospice at St, John's Hospital in Detroit on Saturday, August 4, 2012. He was 76 years old. 

AMRF Board member and Producer Keith Irtenkauf shared this reminiscence:  

We had the honor and pleasure of working with Detroit’s “Gentleman of the Blues” during our 2006 Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival.  Johnnie Bassett was a soft-spoken man who let his unique guitar style and smooth singing voice speak for him.  Watching a performance dozens of times during an edit can get very monotonous, but it was different with Johnnie.  His restrained, but precise attack at the strings and his excellent lyrical timing made his set a pleasure to watch over and over.  There was always something new to see and hear, something pleasant and exciting.  Try to put your finger on his style; a bit like B.B. King, but different, a bit like Elmore James, maybe a little like T-Bone Walker, maybe a little like Jimmy Reed?  Familiar, yet totally unique, that was Johnnie.  Johnnie preferred playing deep-bodied electric guitars in a rarely-used tuning and had a unique tone that was warm and clear.  His voice was smooth and soulful.  Like many blues musicians who came up in the heyday of Detroit’s blues scene, Johnnie wasn’t born in Detroit, but was proud to be a Detroiter.   Johnnie’s just-released CD opens with a tune by the same name “”Proud to Be From Detroit.” 

Listening to Johnnie talk about his own history, you got the sense that he was proud of his musical accomplishments and that fame was not important, it was the music that was important.  Johnnie just wanted his music to make people happy.  His jump style of blues was upbeat and soulful, and his jazz chops added a precision to his guitar playing that was truly unique.

Johnnie was born in 1935 and was the son of a Florida bootlegger.   Johnnie’s family moved to Detroit in 1944 and Johnnie attended Detroit’s Northwestern high school.   It was during his high school years that Johnnie started playing guitar.  He joined the Army in 1958 and was stationed in Seattle, Washington. After 6 years in the Army, Johnnie stayed in Seattle for a while and picked up gigs.  Johnnie tells a great story about a young Jimi Hendrix coming to his Sunday night jam sessions and being amazed by Johnnie’s sound - Johnnie tells this story without a trace of arrogance or immodesty.  Jimi wants to know how Johnnie gets that unique tone and the working man musician Johnnie encourages Hendrix to find his own sound; “You don’t need to sound like me, do your own stuff and get your own sound.” 

Johnnie would return to Detroit in the mid 1960’s and was a solo performer and session musician for Fortune, Chess and Motown Records.  Johnnie played with the likes of Tina Turner, John Lee Hooker, Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown and Big Joe Turner.  Later in life, he stayed busy as a local musician gigging with Joe Weaver and Alberta Adams.  He released five CD’s and was nominated 5 times for a W.C. Handy Award (the highest Blues honor).  Johnnie was also a multiple winner of the Detroit Music Awards best blues musician award.



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discussion

  • Thank you for taking the time to post the story about Detroit gem, Johnnie Basse...more
    - [groovedaddy]

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