Seasoned Grand Rapids bluesman Asamu Johnson lives and breathes the blues, telling entertaining musical tales with a boost from a veteran group that has some roots in the Fatt Lapp Blues Band. (Podcast, video)
Musical Pals: Asamu Johnson, left, with guitarists Mike Howe Sr. and CC Woods, got funny and bluesy on Local Spins Live. (Photo/Anna Sinkevics)
Plagued by a case of mistaken identity from the day he was born, there’s certainly no mistaking Asamu Johnson’s singular authenticity when it comes to the blues.
The gregarious Grand Rapids singer and bassist seems to ooze the blues from every pore, injecting his soulful vocals and humor-filled songs with the kind of blues rootsiness and candor you might expect from a musician whose folks were raised in the heart of Mississippi blues country.
As Mike Howe Sr., the guitarist in Johnson’s band, puts it: “He’s authentic. He’s the real deal. Some people play at the blues and some people are the blues. He absorbed it when he was a little kid and it’s the real thing.”
Howe would know. He and Johnson have played together for decades, and formed the popular Fatt Lapp Blues Band with guitarist CC Woods in the mid-1990s.
The trio of longtime musical comrades – who play in Johnson’s band along with keyboardist Adam McMillan and drummer DeShawn Wilkerson – demonstrated that lovable blues mettle, as well as plenty of good-hearted ribbing of one another, during this week’s Local Spins Live on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW).
You can listen to a podcast of the entire show here and watch a video below of their acoustic performance of one of Johnson’s entertaining original songs, “Funny Money,” which appears on his solo debut album, “Got to Go,” released nationally last year on the Tate Music Group label.
RAISED IN THE BLUES
Although Johnson says “the blues just soaked into me” while being raised in a family that embraced the genre, he didn’t really start playing as a musician until he returned from military service in Vietnam. He says he bought a guitar “and sat in front of a record player for eight months” learning how to play.
He cut his teeth in Grand Rapids by playing bass in Fred Johnson’s blues band, performing at the old Horseshoe Bar, and still tells anecdotes of playing through shootings and altercations that would break out from time to time at evening gigs.
Delivering a mix of blues styles, Johnson has since traveled the country performing in a host of bands, including the Funkasonics, Slick Blues Inc. and, of course, the Fatt Lapp Blues Band. He spread his wings on his first solo album recently with original, down-to-earth songs that spring from the heart with a healthy dose of humor, ranging from life’s financial travails in “Funny Money” to his personal experience in seeing a UFO on “I Seen It.”
A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
Those sorts of unusual tales even extend to the story behind his first name, which he legally changed to Asamu after constantly being mistaken by police for a wanted criminal who shared the same name. And when he told his mother what he’d done, she relayed that the name mixup had a lengthy history: Nurses had even brought the wrong baby to her in the hospital after he was born.
There are no mixups about Johnson’s music. It’s refreshing, genuine and going places: Johnson and Howe say they plan to tour extensively beyond Michigan in 2013 and hope to even book dates in Europe.
“We’ve got passports,” Howe says with a smile.
For now, fans can catch the band live in Grand Rapids when they play at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Billy’s Lounge in Eastown. Admission is $5.
Learn more about Johnson at his official website.
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FA 3/4/2013 – 3/20/2013