Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Lazy Lester, I Hear You Knockin'.
Lazy Lester, I'm a Lover Not a Fighter.

Lazy Lester, born Leslie Johnson in Torras, Louisiana, in 1933, is one of the great swamp blues players, noted for his songwriting as well as his skills on a host of instruments, including harp, bass, drums and guitar. I first heard about Lester from the Rev. Frost, who offered this mini-bio when he wrote about Lester last summer:

"While riding on a bus sometime in the mid-'50s, [Lester] met guitarist Lightnin' Slim, who was searching fruitlessly for an AWOL harpist. The two's styles meshed seamlessly, and Lester became Slim's harpist of choice. In 1956, Lester stepped out front at J.D. Miller's (the prolific south Louisiana producer) Crowley, LA, studios for the first time. Lester proved invaluable as an imaginative sideman for Miller, utilizing everything from cardboard boxes and claves to whacking on newspapers in order to locate the correct percussive sound for the producer's output."

Miller also allegedly gave Lester his nickname, based on Lester's meandering way of talking ("I never was in a hurry to do nothing," Lester said later).

By the late 1960s, Lester had given up on playing music professionally, in part because he felt he had been ripped off repeatedly by his label, Excello. Lester's songs, which he said were collaborations with his producer Miller, had not-so-mysteriously become sole Miller compositions by the time they were released on disc, and Lester claimed he received basically zero royalties from them. So Lester headed north, to work some odd jobs and go fishing.

And while he's been lured back on stage and in the studio in the decades since, Lester rightfully has remained wary of the professional music world.

"I Hear You Knockin'" and "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter" (the latter covered by the Kinks a decade later) are Lester at his finest. Both were recorded in Crowley, La., in May 1958, with Al Foreman (g), Bobby McBride (b) and Warren Storm (d). "Lover" was released as Excello 2143, "Knockin'" as Excello 2155. On Excello Story Vol. 3.

Lester is still performing--here are his current tour dates (he's going to be in Finland soon, which may interest the few Finnish regulars who frequent this site).

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