He was influenced by the sounds of harp master Little Walter, whom he heard being played on a Nashville radio station, and blues aristocrats like Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Big Walter Horton. Dyer formed his first band at age 16, in which he played acoustic harmonica. His first experience playing amplified harp came during a club gig in the early 1950's with his friend Smokey Wilson. Muddy Waters discovered his talent and eventually moved north to find greatness. Johnny Dyer also migrated, but instead of going north to Chicago, he followed his fortune to California, where he fell in with the burgeoning West Coast vanguard typified by Johnny Otis, Jimmy Witherspoon and T-Bone Walker. In 1958, Dyer moved to Los Angeles after receiving many letters from his uncle telling him about the rapidly growing blues scene.
One of the first people Dyer met in L.A. was George "Harmonica" Smith, who had worked with Muddy Waters. Dyer and Smith actually played gigs together as father and son, with the elder statesman of harmonica taking Dyer under his wing. Dyer reflected about that time by saying, "Smith was the hottest thing around and the blues was really swinging! He taught me a lot.
Everybody loved George." Forming his own band, Johnny Dyer & The Blue Notes, the transplanted musician began playing with other well-known bluesmen such as J.B. Hutto, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers. In the 1960’s, Dyer started performing with less regularity and then stepped away from the business for almost two decades. During the 1960's, the blues club scene in L.A. began to suffer and Dyer looked outside the music business to make a living.
"Motown just stepped in and crushed everything. Blues was good until Motown stepped in," says Johnny. "I told George, 'I don't want to play no more.'" One day he noticed that Muddy Waters was playing that night at the Troubadour club. After seeing the big crowd Muddy had drawn, Dyer thought that perhaps blues wasn't dead after all and was encouraged to return to the stage. Re-emerging in the early 1980's, Dyer began to meet and perform with the cream of the L.A.
harp community, including Shakey Jake, Harvey Blackstone aka Harmonica Fats, and a very young Rod Piazza. Dyer recorded two singles for Shakey Jake's Good Time label and in 1983 recorded an album on the small Murray Brothers label with his old band, the L.A. Jukes. He was also featured on Hard Times: L.A.
Blues Anthology on the Black Magic label from Scandinavia. Dyer’s first national breakout came via his association with guitarist Rick Holmstrom and their two albums on the New Orleans based Black Top Records. 1994’s Listen Up and 1995’s Shake It. Both feature Dyer’s wonderful vocals and harp playing along with the astonishingly mature guitar work of Holmstrom. These two albums provided Dyer with his first big critical and commercial success. In 2004, Johnny Dyer, along with the recently departed Finis Tasby, sang on the inaugural release of the Southern California based super group The Mannish Boys.
2004 also saw the release of the album Rolling Fork Revisited, where Dyer sang alongside harmonica player Mark Hummel. A few years later, Dyer hooked up with the international coalition of musicians led by Southern Californian Mark Mumea called The Elgins. Their 2012 album on Devil’s Tale Music entitled Back to Chicago was a reunion of sorts of the L.A. Jukes as drummer Bob “Pacemaker” Newham and harmonica player/vocalist Mark Bukich were on board for this project. Dyer sings on four of the album’s sixteen tracks.
It would be Dyer’s last recording session. By this time, respiratory illness slowed him down considerably. His live performance schedule virtually ground to a halt as well over the past year or so. Johnny Dyer finally succumbed to respiratory complications and passed away on November 13th, 2014. Johnny Dyer will always be remembered as an affable and congenial gentlemen. His friends and fans will always miss not only his great music, but his wonderful personality. Blind Pig has reissued the Murray Brothers LP, adding four previously unreleased tracks, including one with George "Harmonica" Smith.
Entitled Jukin', the album features Dyer's eloquent, polished style of harp, and the music ranges from Dyer's own compositions to classic tunes by Waters, Little Walter and Jimmy Reed. The seasoned veteran has no gimmicks, no special effects - just straight-ahead, comin' from the soul blues guaranteed to put a smile on your face! Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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