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July 16, 2024

Keith Johnson

One of the Delta’s leading blues musicians

By Mark H. Stowers, The Bolivar Bullet

A direct descendant of Delta Blues Royalty, Keith Johnson seeks to honor his great Uncle Muddy Waters everytime he picks up a guitar. The blues musician, who lives in Cleveland, plays all over the United States and Internationally. When he’s not on stage performing, he’s authoring novels and books. Johnson’s latest book, Come to Mississippi The Birthplace of the Blues will soon be released. 

“I talk a lot about the blues stars born and raised in Mississippi – B. B. King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Little Milton, Howlin’ Wolf – and I use a lot of their hit songs,” he said. “I paint a picture of what it’s like to be in a juke joint with all these stars. Basically, I’m introducing them to a new audience in this book.”

Johnson’s first book was entitled, Free Man: Opening the Case. He received his Entertainment Industry Studies Degree with a concentration in Audio Engineering in December 2016 and then achieved his MBA in Human Resources at Delta State University. 

“I worked for the Delta Center of Culture and Learning as a grad assistant and now I work as an HR Business Partner for Harlow Casinos in Greenville,” said Johnson. 

The accomplished blues musician, songwriter and winner of the 2016 local International Blues Challenge Competition was born 10 years after Muddy Waters passed so he never got to meet the legend. He has amassed a songwriting catalogue of 26 original songs of which 11 will appear on his debut “Come to Mississippi” CD that he recorded at the B.B. King Recording Studio in Itta Bena. 

“I started playing guitar at about 15 or 16 years old performing blues covers of Muddy Waters music,” said Johnson. 

Johnson has played with Bobby Rush, Muddy Water’s sons, and many others in his short career. Along with his first album, he’s released a four song Christmas project and has a new song being released this spring, “Nephew Muddy.”

“It’s an acoustic blues song with slide and harmonica. It’s engineered and produced by Vasti Jackson – the band leader and emcee for Johnny Taylor,” said Johnson.

His career has taken him to Brazil, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and was recently in Chicago performing at the Muddy Waters Mojo Museum for a fundraiser. He performs locally as one of the Deep Roots artists, the Chicago Blues Festival, The King Biscuit Festival, both Ground Zero Blues Clubs and the Clarksdale Blues Festival. Johnson has won several blues honors – International Blues Competition for the Vicksburg Blues Society and the Indianola Blues Society. When not performing with his band, he puts together backing bands for other performers where he plays guitar and harmonica. 

He’s also helped put together the annual blues conference held at Delta State and in 2018 was in charge along with Dr. Rolando Hurts, the Executive Director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning. Johnson continues to write and perform wherever invited. His favorite Muddy Waters song – Got My Mojo Working – is always included in his set.

“I’m excited to be working with my family – his great-granddaughter, Shondra Cooper, the director of the Muddy Waters Mojo Museum,” he said. “We’re building relationships and getting to know one another.”

Taking a few notes from his famous relative, Johnson always performs in a two piece suit and tie, nice shoes and a Telecaster guitar and receives plenty of compliments from Muddy Water’s older fan base.

“I get comments all the time that I remind them of him,” he said. “I pay homage to him and continuing that family legacy.”

His book can be found at LuLu.com, but check out Johnson’s Facebook page for more information – Delta Blues Johnson. You can also go to YouTube to watch one of his amazing performances. 

Keeping the music and legend of Muddy Waters alive, Keith Johnson performs the blues he was born with.