Earl Johnson Biography

Robert Earl Johnson, 24 August 1886, Gwinnett County, Georgia, USA, d. 31 May 1965, Georgia, USA. A favourite among students of old times roots and country music, fiddler Earl Johnson came from a region famed for string bands like the Georgia Yellowhammers and the Skillet Lickers. He learned to play the violin under his father’s tuition, later enrolling on a music correspondence course before forming a trio with his brother and sister (guitar and banjo). After both siblings died in 1923 he took engagements supporting noted local star Fiddlin’ John Carson. Johnson also worked on records by Arthur Tanner (brother of Gid Tanner of the Skillet Lickers) when they recorded for Paramount Records in New York. His first own-name releases were for OKeh Records. He made his first 78 rpm on 21 February 1927, backed by his Dixie Entertainers ? Emmett Bankston on banjo and Byrd Moore on guitar. Further sessions followed in Atlanta, resulting in recordings of standards such as ‘Bile Them Cabbage Down’ and ‘Shortenin’ Bread’. With Lee ‘Red’ Henderson replacing Byrd Moore, the group became Earl Johnson And His Clod Hoppers. OKeh marketed the group as an answer to Columbia Records’ Skillet Lickers, but their next sessions for the label, in August 1928, failed to convince. Someone at the label tried to add novelty value to the six tracks recorded by incorporating continuous laughter through the recordings. By 1929, Johnson had switched to Victor Records (reverting to the band name the Dixie Entertainers). The early 30s saw him return to OKeh, although Bankston and Henderson left the trio. For recording sessions in December 1930 he was joined by his wife Lula Bell and guitarist Bill Henson. However, with the American depression beginning to bite, Johnson’s last recorded work was completed in October 1931. Thereafter he dropped out of the music business, although he did continue to take part in fiddle contests until the end of his life in 1965, when he died of a heart attack.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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