Smokey Johnson

Born: November 14, 1936 (Johnson) in New Orleans, Louisiana

Musicians from the city of New Orleans played such an enormous role in the birth of rock’n’roll that their varied contributions can be explored like the facets of a fine diamond. While Earl Palmer and Idris Muhammad—two Crescent City drummers we also spoke with for this book—left to pursue the greener pastures of Hollywood and New York, Smokey Johnson and John Boudreaux kept the beat at home, becoming a very big influence on the jazz and funk sounds that were emerging in the 1960s and ’70s.

Though their names may be less recognized than some of their peers, Johnson and Boudreaux laid down the grooves for a veritable “who’s who” of New Orleans notables, including Irma Thomas, Doctor John, Allen Touissant, Professor Longhair, Dave Bartholomew, Earl King, Lee Dorsey, Ellis Marsalis, Chris Kenner, Jesse Hill, and Robert Parker.

While Boudreaux’s roots are steeped in jazz, Johnson’s playing leans in the direction of some serious N’awlins-inflected proto-funk. He heavily influenced later funksters the Meters and the Nevilles, and enjoyed a 28-year stint with Fats Domino.

Lifelong friends, Johnson and Boudreaux grew up together, practiced together, and as you’ll soon hear, easily finish one another’s sentences. Each in his own way expanded the boundaries of what was possible behind a drumset, and both offer a unique perspective (and some strong opinions) on music and their beloved city.

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