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Interview

Johnny Rawls

Johnny Rawls

Johnny Rawls calls his new record label "Deep South Soul" and other than adding the words "and Blues" there could be no better description for the music he continues to produce. This should come as no surprise since Rawls received tutelage from none other than O.V. Wright as part of Wright's band until the singer's premature death in 1980. Rawls draws on that 60s Deep Soul Blues tradition, only with his own modern rhythmic shimmy to it. With today's Southern Soul dominated by machine programming he's one of the few living pillars still performing 100% organic music.

Born in 1951 in Purvis, Rawls began playing clarinet and saxophone in third grade but by the age of twelve he switched to guitar. Still a teen, he turned pro to back singers like Joe Tex, Little Johnny Taylor, Willie Hitower and Z.Z. Hill. Eventually he was playing behind one of his idols, O.V. Wright. Despite Wright's death the O.V. Wright Band stayed alive for over a decade with Rawls at the head.

Determined to work under his own name he cut a 45 for the tiny Rainbow label in 1985 . Working with guitarist L.C. Luckett, Rawls recorded several more singles for his own label, Touch Records, and a hard to find LP called "You're The One". But it would take another 9 years for the next LP to materialize. Blues harp legend Willie Cobbs hooked Rawls & Luckett up with Jim O'Neal of Rooster Blues, which lead to the acclaimed "Can't Sleep At Night"  in 1994. Rawls also produced Cobbs' "Down To Earth" for the label.

Starting in 1996 Rawls entered a prodigious period with JSP Records. Serving as producer and A & R rep for the label he helmed albums for artists like Lonnie Shields, Phil Guy, Eddie Kirkland, Johnnie Marshall, Kenny Edwards, George Stancell and Percy Strother. During this time he dropped four records of his own, developing his own disparate sound- a Southern Soul melody template with a heavy rhythmic pulse. When that deal ended he was back on his own label, then named Deep South Sound. In no short order he produced records for old friends Blues Boy Willie & Chick Willis, as well as his own "Lucky Man" and a project on his daughter Destini.

Despite his impressive resume Rawls is just now hitting his peak. After one acclaimed disc for Topcat ("No Boundaries") Rawls' has re-titled his label Deep South Soul and released his best record to date, "Heart & Soul".

Interview

BC = Blues Critic

JR = Johnny Rawls

BC = O.V. Wright's one of the greatest Deep Soul singers of all time. Tell us about your experience as part of his band in the 70s.

O.V. Wright O.V. Wright

JR = Oh it was great you know I was with him 'til the day he died. I was with him when he died, when he took his last breath. We was on our way from Mobile back to Georgia and he couldn't take it no more. He couldn't breath no more so we forced him into the hospital. They couldn't do nothing with him so we took him back to Mobile and he died.

BC = What did you do after his death?

Rawls & Luckett Rawls & Luckett

JR = After that I went on my own and started my solo career. Well I played with the O.V. Wright band for a while and then went solo. I had a label called Touch records and did that first record as Rawls & Luckett, "You're The One". I got a real good pressing plant and I'm thinking of releasing that on CD and call it the "The First CD" or something like that.

BC = The second "Can't Sleep At Night" is one of my favorite albums. You did that on Rooster?

JR = Yeah before I did that I produced three Gospel records for the (Fabulous) Luckett Brothers in Nashville Tennessee. That was a treat working with those guys. L.C. was too young so they was his uncles. LC wanted to play with he. He was like a little kid who followed me everywhere and wouldn't take no for an answer (laughs). So me and (Rooster label owner) Jim O'Neal produced that and the one for Willie Cobbs, 2 on Super Chicken and some others.

BC = You next signed with JSP Records. The music you made there has a certain production sound. Very slick, cavernous, heavy bass. Is that a sound you went for or was that just the studio?

JR = Yeah we produced like 30 records. You know I brought Soul music to JSP Records. The sound was a combination of both. It was a duo thing of the particular way I was feeling and that particular studio and musicians. John Stedman mixed it. John's a real good guy but he didn't have a clue 'cuz he never really mixed Soul music before. I feel real good about those albums but what I'm doing now is the real Johnny Rawls

BC = One of your more famous songs from those years is that "Lucy". Do you get a lot requests for that one?

JR = Oh man that song is one of the reasons I left JSP right there. Listen here, wherever I went in the United States people wanted to hear "Lucy". Even today. I musta sold at least ten thousand copies of "Lucy" ya know what I'm saying? I told them that instead of me recording five or more Blues singles that ain't gonna tour this one here is a club hit so why don't y'all put some money behind "Lucy" and I was told that Bruce (Feiner) wasn't gonna do it. And I felt if all you gonna do is record me and that's all, I can do that myself.

BC = So you feel there wasn't enough promotion for those records?

JR = Naw man. It was a missed opportunity. Yeah you know even last night they wanted to hear it ("Lucy") twice. So I'm taking advantage of that now I put it on my "Live In Montana" CD you know. Instead of giving them six dollars a CD...it ain't about the money but what they could've done...

Johnny Rawls Lucky Man blues boy willie back again.jpg Chick Willis "I Won't Give Up" (Deep South Sounds 2002) Destinii Rawls

BC = Following your last JSP disc you started your own label Deep South Sound and brought some friends along...

JR = Yeah, Chick Willis, Blues Boy Willie, my daughter Destini. It was good but if you got an artist that's not touring and selling records it's totally worthless. You know Chick, Blues Boy they do shows once in awhile, when they can, but they don't do it like me. I turn up every rock to get out there. So now it's just me, Deep South Soul.

BC = I though "Lucky Man" was a very good album...

JR = Yeah but the production wasn't what I wanted. The songs were good but it's not like it is now. I've finally found the right place to record, the right people.

Roy Roberts & Johnny Rawls Johnny Rawls & The Rays "No Boundaries" (Catfood/Topcat/Deep South)

BC = Whose idea was it, you or Roy, to do the album "Partners & Friends" together?

JR = It was together. You know I was down there in Carolina to show Roy how to really do the Shag (laughs). And I went down there and kicked it with him and he just said we should do an album together and I thought it was a pretty good album. You know Roy has a real good record out right now...

BC = Oh yeah, I know, "Sicily Moon". I did an interview with I'm too. He's a cool cat. So now I've read about the story concerning your next album, "No Boundaries". You produced an album for the Rays...

JR = Yeah, well Bob (Trenchard) is a real good friend of mine and I knew his wife. They were married thirty years she died of breast cancer. That's what that whole CD is about. He wrote all those songs about her. That's why it sounds like it sounds. So I recorded those songs for him and the CD did really well but it really wasn't my kind of music. It was good for me and it was good for Bob as a release. I didn't put any of my songs 'cuz I wanted to get Bob's songs he wrote about her out there.

BC = How do you rank yourself as a guitarist?

JR = Well, as a guitar slinger I'm not. Sometimes I get off loud but you know who I like on guitar? Steve Cropper. You know chords, sweet Soul playing. I don't like the screaming guitar.

Johnny Rawls Heart & Soul

BC = So you've said the new "Heart & Soul" is the real Johnny Rawls?

JR = It's just me, Johnny Rawls, when it comes to the way it sounds. No interference. No input. Just Johnny Rawls period. Nobody trying to mix it somewhere else they way they wanted it. I was even there for the mix. This is my best work. I know people always say that but this really is my best work. I'm really excited about it.

BC = Now this song "Damn Cocaine". Is that about somebody in particular?

JR = That's a real true story. All those songs are true stories.

BC = I like how you added a little harmonica to your Soul. But you still got those horns!

JR = What do you think of a harmonica in Soul music?

BC = Hey, as long as it works I'm all for it! But I like them horns too.

JR = Yeah definitely got the horns but the harmonica I wanted to try something different like what John Mellencamp did with the harmonica and violins, you know, add that to Soul music. I got a strong feeling about this record. I think people gonna love it. You know what Little Johnny Taylor told me? he said "true live stories is what make hit records. He said that when he did that "Open House At My House" he said it was true. When he would leave home he said he would call and they would be partying like a mutha--- (laughs). True real stories is what make hit records.

JOHNNY RAWLS DISCOGRAPHY HERE


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(C) 2018. All written material found on this website is the property of Blues Critic and may only be used with permission and full accreditation (either "Blues Critic" or "Dylann DeAnna of Blues Critic") and link to this website.