Crystal Springs in Copiah County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
Tommy Johnson was a pioneer in Mississippi blues whose songs and distinctive falsetto moan were adopted by many of his contemporaries and followers. He was born in 1896 on a plantation between Crystal Springs and Terry and was one of eleven children. Johnson learned to play guitar from his older brother LeDell (1892–1972) and as a young teen ran away to the Delta. He returned two years later an accomplished performer, which, according to LeDell, Johnson attributed to a meeting with a mysterious figure at a crossroads. The story, which involved Johnson handing over his guitar to a large black man who tuned it for him, predates the similar and more famous tale
In 1916 Johnson moved back to the Delta with LeDell and their wives, settling on a plantation in Drew. There Johnson renewed his ties with local bluesmen who had influenced him on his earlier visit, notably Charley Patton, Willie Brown, and Dick Bankston. After a year in Drew, Johnson traveled for several years and upon returning to Crystal Springs played music locally with LeDell and their younger brothers Clarence (1904–1945) and Mager (1905–1986). Johnson’s brothers lived relatively settled lives—LeDell became a preacher—but Tommy continued to travel extensively, playing in the Delta with Charley Patton and working regularly at parties and dances in Jackson with Rubin Lacy, Charlie McCoy, Walter Vinson, and Ishmon Bracey. Johnson’s recordings for the Victor and Paramount labels from 1928 to 1930 included “Canned Heat Blues,” “Big Road Blues,” “Maggie Campbell Blues,” “Bye Bye Blues,” “Big Fat Mama Blues,” and “Cool Drink of Water Blues,” which contains the memorable line “I asked for water, and she gave me gasoline.” In addition to his solo performances, he recorded with the New Orleans-based jazz group the Nehi Boys.
Although Johnson did not
Erected 2007 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 22.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Entertainment. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1896.
Location. 31° 59.249′ N, 90° 21.506′ W. Marker is in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, in Copiah County. Marker is at the intersection of West Railroad Avenue and West Georgetown Street, on the right when traveling south on West Railroad Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Crystal Springs MS 39059, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 9 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Crystal Springs (within shouting distance of this marker); Bus-Train Collision of 1942 (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Chautauqua Buildings (approx. 0.9 miles away); P.T.A. Birthplace (approx. 0.9 miles away); Chautauqua Tabernacle (approx. 0.9 miles away); Spring House (approx. 0.9 miles away); Terry (approx. 8.4 miles away); Robert Johnson (approx. 9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Crystal Springs.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 11, 2021. It was originally submitted on December 25, 2011, by Jeff Lovorn of Florence, Mississippi. This page has been viewed 699 times since then and 52 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on December 25, 2011, by Jeff Lovorn of Florence, Mississippi. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.
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