Donald Ray Johnson
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Donald Ray Johnson


Band Blues R&B


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Donald Ray Johnson, the funky memory
Quai du blues. Ile de la Jatte (Neuilly)
Tonight and tomorrow at 10:30 pm, €20, contact:

Is it jazz or somewhat heavy soul? Is it a black crooner or a bluesman with a velvet voice? And if Donald Ray Johnson should be what BB King or Al Green have ceased to be for the last 20 years, something like a funky memory of the most languid music in the world, a precocious genius of the rawest gospel? Really though, he's not as precocious as that. He's played in the 70's with the legendary Charles Brown, (Ray Charles' very first influence and inspiration), also Big Joe Turner, Philip Walker, and Big Mama Thornton. With his sexy gospel-soul, he could go so far. He is indeed the 'Mickey' of rhythm'n'blues. Don't you think?

- Liberation

"Cd review for Pure Pleasure"

eal Blues magazine CD Review For "Pure Pleasure"

While I love Phillip Walker (the great Texas/West Coast bluesman) I must admit some of my anticipation for going to see him play live, (especially when he was coming to Victoria, BC regularly in the early 1990s), was because I could always expect Phillip to bring with several great West Coast/California blues veterans, people like Nat Dove, Johnny Tucker, Dale Rene, Broadway Thomas and the great Don Johnson.

Like many Texas blues/R&B players, Donald Ray Johnson migrated to where the work was and California was where the action was. We did a story on Donald Ray in WestCoast Blues Review #9 and despite his youthful age (born
1948) the man has been around! As a highly regarded drummer and a deep-voiced vocalist, Don got work in California gigging with people like Charles Brown, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Smokey Wilson, Big Mama Thorton and of course Phillip Walker but around 1974, Don got a job with an R&B/Disco outfit called A Taste Of Honey and with their Grammy Award in 1979 for 'Boogie Oogie Oogie', he went all over the world, (first-class), with the group.

By 1980 however A Taste Of Honey was kaputs and Don went back to the Blues in LA with work again in Phillip Walker's group. Following a serious vision impairment situation and surgury which left Don near blind, he went
back to Texas in 1986 and then on to Billings, Montana to work with old friend and LA blues legend, Dale Rene.

Because of Don's familiarity with Alberta, ( Phillip Walker has played hundreds of gigs in Calgary and Alberta over the last 20 years), he had made dozens of good friends all over the Province, and after a short visit in 1990, Don became a Calgary-based bluesman.

He put out a fine CD in 1995, 'It Ain't Easy Bein' Blue', (the excellent title tune is reprised here), and while he's still the best Texas-shuffle drummer in all of Canada, (and still for hire!), he's been building up a big name for himself as a vocalist/keyboardist/songwriter as well, and he also joins forces with the 3-to-4 dozen American expatriate blues/R&B players who reside/work in Canada (Kenny Wayne, Curly Bridges, Wild Child Butler....).

'Pure Pleasure'is, in my opinion, 70% blues/30% R&B and, the combination for the most part, works. While many of today's artists could be classified as soul-blues acts, Don keeps the two genres separate on this disc, laying down deep Texas/West Coast blues grooves on several tracks and even offering up a fine gospel number, 'Song For Perry (Walk Around Heaven All Day)'.

Opening with a bang on 'Slow Down Baby',(killer sax and trombone by Ralph Moncivais and B.J. Emery respectively) Donald Ray proves within seconds to be a world-class Blues talent, (wonderful lady-killing voice, perfect drumming, and exceptional song-writing). One thing listeners should recognize right-away is that despite being an independent, self-produced album, this disc is totally professional in sound, production, mixing, arrangements.....everything is high-standard quality control. Johnson has also surrounded himself with the very best talents and everybody gives 110% for Don, a man they all both love and respect.

Alberta-based allstars include Johnny V. Mills, Ron Casat, Steve Pineo, Gib Monks, P.J. Perry, Michael Huston, Rob Vaus and Graham Guest, while U.S.-based players are the awesomely-gifted Maurice Vaughn and his bandmate, B.J. Emery. B.C. also contributes Bill Johnson on guitar and Russell Jackson on bass.

'Gone So Long' and 'Thrilling You, Killing Me' are superb numbers that will have blues fans everywhere saying/thinking 'Wow! This guy Donald Ray is HOT!!', but as great as those tracks are, 'No Guitar Blues' deserves to be both a huge radio Hit and an all-time classic/standard. It's one of those humorous, funky, talkin' blues that work so well (remember 'Don't Go Reachin' Cross My Plate'?)

'Too Young To Know', performed live with Maurice Vaughn's band at Blues On Whyte in Edmonton, is a smokin' closer to this super-fine blues/r&b CD. If anyone ever tries to tell you that Real, Authentic, full-of-feeling Blues doesn't exist anymore, just play them 3 or 4 of the tunes we've mentioned. They will agree with the title of 'Pure Pleasure'.

We have been hoping Donald Ray Johnson would get the respect and exposure he deserves as an exceptional blues talent and now it looks as though he may get it thanks to this killer disc. 5 Bottles for a collection of material
that truly is an experience in 'Pure Pleasure'. (deejays everywhere should be pushing 'No Guitar Blues' as Blues Song Of 2003!!!).

Real Blues Magazine - Real Blues Magazine

"Blues into pleasure"

Blues into Pleasure
Don Johnson's pure talent

The blues feels at home in Southern Alberta.

That could explain why so many incredibly talented and well- respected musicians choose to make this region their base: Ellen McIlwaine, Amos Garrett, Johnny V, Back Alley John, Tim Williams, Bill Dowey, and Texas born bluesman Donald Ray Johnson to name but a few.

Drummer-vocalist Johnson moved here about 13 years ago after living in L.A. for more than two decades, playing as a side-man with artists such as Big Joe Turner and Smokey Wilson, as well as being a member of the Grammy-winning act A Taste of Honey, who were responsible for the disco hit Boogie Oogie Oogie (he still has the Grammy in his china cabinet).

When his eyesight began to fail him - he's now legally blind - his first instinct was to return home to Texas, but a fellow musician encouraged Johnson to head to Montana, and a few months later a girlfriend brought him the rest of the way to Calgary.

Here he found a lifestyle that appealed to him and, more importantly a music community that welcomed him.

"They embraced me", the rumbly-voiced Johnson says.

"And I can say that without even thinking about it."

Johnson's first gig here was as the drummer for Steve Pineo, and from there he's built up a solo career that gets another boost with his latest CD, Pure Pleasure, which he releases with a party tonight and tomorrow night at Murrieta's.

His first album in more than four years features some pretty spectacular performances on 13 smooth and rich blues tracks - including eight originals.

Johnson's voice is the perfect mix of heart and soul, and helping him reach that much further inside is a group of guest musicians that includes Pineo, P.J. Perry, Ron Casat and Maurice John Vaughn.

And while Pure Pleasure should win over blues fans lucky enough to hear it, Johnson says he doesn't expect the Grammy committee to be calling any time soon. Which is fine by him, those big-time aspirations he once held as a young musician have been in the closet about as the heydays of disco.

"I really have no desire to get out there and complete with the young hip hoppers," he says with a deep laugh. "It's their time now. I'm 53 years old and I'm here. This is where my life is now and I'm quite pleased."

-Mike Bell
Calgary Sun (dec 6 2002) - Calgary Sun


Donald Ray Johnson Discography:

It Aint Easy Being Blue
Pure Pleasure
Traveling Man



Donald Ray Johnson was born on November 12, 1948 in Bryan Texas. He took an early interest in music, as did his older sister Janice Marie. They sang in church and at family functions. At age 7, Donald Ray became interested in playing the drums, beating on whatever he could get his hands on.

"Our house was across the street from the Allen Military Academy, and I would rush home from school to listen to the marching band's practices, especially the drum cadences." During the summer Donald Ray worked in the cotton fields of the Brazos Bottom's plantations to earn money for school clothes.

In 1961 he was introduced to high school band director Waymond Webster, who taught him to play " Traps." (The drumset). At age 14, Donald Ray began his professional career with blues piano legend Nat Dove. Throughout his teens Donald played with the two local bluesmen based in Bryan. Organist Joe Daniels, and Guitarist Lavernis Thurman ("We played a live radio show every Sat. night.").

On January 18, 1966, Donald Ray entered the US Navy serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. After two tours in Southeast Asia (Viet Nam ), he was honorably discharged. After his discharge Donald Ray relocated to San Diego. While working " house band " at the Downtown Hustlers Club, Donald met quite a few of the L.A. based blues & R&B artists including Lowell Fulsom, Bobby Womack, and Pee Wee Crayton.

In early 1970, Don was called to play weekends in LA with Phillip Walker, by long time friend Nat Dove, who now lived in LA. Some 29 years later the relationship with the Phillip Walker Band still exists. In 1971 Donald moved to LA to work with the Joe Houston big band backing some of the west coast's top blues artist.

While trying to find a weekend gig Don met songwriter - producer, Perry Kibble who was in the process of developing a group that featured the talents of two young African American women, (bassist, Janice Marie Johnson & guitarist Carlita Durhan). We later became known as " A Taste Of Honey ". In 1979, this band was the first Afro - American Band to win and be presented with the "Grammy Award" for "Best New Artist".

Now living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Don has become a well liked and respected member of the Canadian blues community. Named "Best Canadian Male Blues Vocalist" in 1997 by Real Blues Magazine, Don was also nominated "Best Blues Drummer" in 1997 and Best Male Blues Vocalist in 1998 by the Toronto Blues Society. He was recently nominated "Best Blues Artist" by the Alberta Recording Industry Association (A.R.I.A.)