Lazy Lester: Lazy Lester Rides Again - Expanded Edition (CD)
(ACE Records) 23 Tracks - 1987 'Blue Horizon' -
I have been a huge fan of Lazy Lester’s brand of Louisiana swamp blues ever since that fateful day, many years ago now, when John Broven and Mike Leadbitter, of Blues Unlimited fame, introduced me to the Excello label and the production work of J.D. Miller, the label’s owner. I was hooked on Lester’s loping vocal and harmonica styling; the former owing a certain debt to one of the most influential bluesmen of that time, Jimmy Reed, while his harmonica work often appeared to emulate the phrasing and lilt of the accordion, an instrument much maligned, but which has been an all important part of Louisiana’s Cajun and Zydeco cultures.
With the use of a pared-down rhythm section, utilising two guitars and assorted percussion to support his vocal and harmonica work, Lester created a sound that was truly unique – and almost irresistible.
It had always been part of the master plan for the burgeoning Blue Horizon label – if indeed there had actually been a master plan – to record Lazy Lester, Lightnin’ Slim and Slim Harpo at some future date. It was not until 1987 that I finally succeeded in getting Lazy Lester into a recording studio.
Many years of working in the studio in Crowley alongside J.D. Miller made Lester very singular of mind and perceptive as to what was required to get the best results. Those attributes stood him in good stead during these sessions. Musicians to be involved on the planned four-day sessions would be members of the Junkyard Angels, Blues’n’Trouble and special guests Bob Hall, Dave Bronze and John “Big Figure” Martin. The scene was set. I had requested that we should cut no more than three titles that Lester had recorded previously for Excello – and that’s exactly what we got. The others would be chosen from new song demos that had been especially written for the occasion, although only one of those actually made it to the studio and then was never completed – at least, not at that time. Lester had other material that he was anxious to commit to tape and we made the collective decision to also try and jam a couple of items and see what would happen.
Now, you will have to take it from me that some US blues musicians can be tricky to work with. Not so with our man Leslie Johnson. He would prove to be open to almost any suggestion but also full of his own ideas – most of them pretty cool too. In an attempt to be as faithful to my good memories of those days back in May 1987, I got in touch with all the musicians that had participated to see if they might have had a different point of view. Everyone was of the same mind: Tim Elliott stating that his abiding memory was of “just how relaxed the sessions were and how everything just flowed – fabulous times”.
On the 13 November 1988 “Rides Again” became the recipient of the W.C. Handy 1987-88 Blues Award For Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year (Foreign) presented by the Blues Foundation of Memphis. You could say, that although we might not have expected nor needed that, it was most welcome.
Lazy Lester, born Leslie Johnson on June 20, 1933 in Torras, Louisiana, played harmonica and guitar and recorded for producer Jay Miller. His fantastic 1950s and 1960s sides were released on the famous Nashville-based Excello Records label, owned by Ernie Young.
Besides recording under his own name, Lazy Lester contributed to recordings by Lightnin’ Slim, Slim Harpo and Katie Webster, a.o. He will always be remembered for writing such beautiful Louisiana blues classics as ’I'm a Lover Not a Fighter,’ ’I Hear You Knockin', ’ and ’Sugar Coated Love. ’
By accident, Lazy Lester found himself a seat on a bus sitting next to Lightnin’ Slim who was on his way to a 1956 Excello recording session. The scheduled harmonica player for the session didn’t show up, so Lazy Lester could step in. Jay Miller was impressed by Lester’s cool, laidback style of playing the harmonica and recorded him as solo artist. He also used the multi-instrumentalist – Lester could play guitar, harmonica, bass and percussions - in sessions for other Excello artists.
Lazy Lester wrote great tunes, but most of his songs were credited to Jay Miller, or to Miller and Lester. He only only received few royalties, he stated and gave up on the music industry by the late 1960s and he took over manual work. In 1971 promoter Fred Reif organized a show with Lightnin’ Slim, and Lester was brought in to perform with his former partner. Lazy Lester was back on the scene! For the next three decades or so he played in the US and Europe, usually backed by pick-up bands. Record labels like Alligator, Telarc and Ace Records (UK) recorded him again, and once again Lester became an integral part of the international blues circus.
Among others the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Flamin' Groovies, Dave Edmunds, Dwight Yoakam, the Kinks, Anson Funderburgh and Freddy Fender recorded his songs. Most recently, Lester lived with his girlfriend in Paradise, California, he occasionally appeared at festivals and in documentary films. Lazy Lester died of cancer August 22, 2018. He lived to be 85.