JESSE WOODS JOHNSON
Jesse Woods Johnson (born June 1, 1960 in Rock Island, Illinois) is a musician best known as the guitarist in the original lineup of The Time.
Johnson moved to St. Louis at the age of nine and was raised by foster parents after his parents split up. At age 16 he moved back to Rock Island to live with his father. Johnson began playing guitar when he was 15, honing his chops in local rock bands such as Treacherous Funk, Pilot, and Dealer, throughout his teens and early twenties. On a friend’s recommendation, he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1981, where he met Morris Day and played briefly in Day’s band which was called Enterprise. He then became the lead guitarist for the city’s funk rock group, The Time.
Although Prince basically recorded the first two Time albums on his own with Morris Day, Johnson did contribute to the Vanity 6 project with a song called “Bite The Beat” co-written with Prince. On The Time’s third album, Ice Cream Castle, Johnson contributed to the smash singles “The Bird” and “Jungle Love” (the group’s most memorable single), which were helped by the popularity of the Purple Rain film.
However, at the height of The Time’s popularity following the Purple Rain, Johnson left the band and with the help of Manager Owen Husney signed a solo deal with A&M Records in 1984 and released Jesse Johnson’s Revue the following year. This album featured two other former members of The Time in Johnson’s backing band, keyboardist Mark Cardenas and bassist Jerry Hubbard. Three songs were released from the album: “Be Your Man”, “Can You Help Me”, and “I Want My Girl”, the much-slept-on slow song about a fateful relationship. Then came the popular funk non-album outing “Free World”. Shockadelica containing the hit “Crazay”, the duet with Sly Stone, and Every Shade of Love followed over the next three years, building on the inventive, elaborate sound he forged with The Time. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s Johnson also featured on the soundtracks to The Breakfast Club (contributing “Heart Too Hot To Hold”, a duet with Stephanie Spruill), Pretty In Pink, Another 48 Hrs. and White Men Can’t Jump.
Johnson has produced a wide variety of artists, most notable are TaMara and the Seen, After7, Paula Abdul, Da Krash, Kool Skool, Janet Jackson, Debbie Allen, Cheryl Lynn, and Les Rita Mitsouko. By 1990 The Time reformed and issued Pandemonium, which was even more of a group effort than Ice Cream Castle. The album allowed Johnson to contribute his heavy hard rock guitar sound to several tracks.
After the band dissolved once again, Johnson remained in the background for several years, quietly contributing to soundtracks and other artists. His music he recorded for the film A Time To Kill was not released on the soundtrack but can be heard in the film. Finally in 1996, Johnson released another album, Bare My Naked Soul on the Dinosaur Entertainment label. The album was a departure from his funk-filled albums from the 1980s and instead verged into blues and hard rock. It is considered to be the true guitar album that Johnson fans had wanted from him since the beginning of his career.
Four years later, the highlights of Johnson’s solo albums were collected on 2000’s Ultimate Collection, the album includes B-sides, 12″ versions, album tracks, and one previously unreleased song called “Vibe”.
After a nearly 14 year absence from the music scene, Johnson released a new double album Verbal Penetration Volumes 1 and 2 on October 27, 2009.
In February 2012, Johnson served as house guitarist behind a host of all-star blues musicians in the PBS special “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues”. Other members of the house band included Booker T. Jones, Bobby Ross Avila, Narada Michael Walden, Ernie Fields, Jr., Freddie Hendrix and Fred Wesley. Performers included B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Keb Mo, Trombone Shorty and Gary Clark, Jr..