Lazy Lester possesses a glorious, immediately recognizable sound that has been loved and celebrated by generations of blues fans, going back to his earliest Excello recordings from the mid 1950s. But as easy as it is to recognize, it’s equally difficult to describe from a technical or purely analytical point of view. His harmonica playing has a loose, funky quality that on first impression might seem careless, when in actuality it is very proficient and strategic. His tone has a light air-filled quality much different than the compressed, over-amplified sound popularized by Chicago blues. But this tone is, in and of itself, a beautiful sound, reflecting the rural Louisiana environment in which Lazy Lester was raised. It is a tone that does not have to be muscular to be tough. Though best known as a harmonica player, Lazy Lester is also a guitarist, and the same down home, elusively spot-on richness applies in describing his guitar playing. His singing is filled with an unmistakable southern drawl that impresses the listener as both gruff and sweet at the same time. His slurring vocal inflections create a melody that defies transcription to sheet music. And Lester’s song choices are a perfect spotlight for his vocal talents. As a songwriter, Lazy Lester has always found great use of melody, catch phrases, and memorable ‘hooks’ while delivering the goods over a delicious groove. When covering someone else’s material, Lester’s choices are always satisfying reflections on his musical upbringing that are easily converted into his own personal voice. In essence, Lazy Lester is an un-apologetically southern bluesman whose rich musical flavor is wonderfully unique in today’s contemporary blues landscape.
Lazy Lester was born Leslie Johnson in Torras, Louisiana on June 20 1933, and moved to the Baton Rouge area while still a boy. Legend has it that his music career began while coincidentally taking a bus seat next to Lighnin’ Slim, who was headed to a recording session for Excello Records and needed a harmonica player. This led to an enduring partnership, and the Lightnin’ Slim / Lazy Lester sound became a hit making recipe. Lazy Lester also cut a string of his own hits such as “I Hear You Knockin’”, “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter”, and “Sugar Coated Love”, all of which are now often covered classics. He became a house musician for Excello and played harmonica, guitar, and all sorts of percussion on countless sessions for other label stars such as Slim Harpo, Lonesome Sundown, Jimmy Dotson, Henry Gray and others. Lazy Lester’s run with Excello lasted until the late 1960s, and this period will forever cement Lazy Lester into blues history as a beacon of Excello’s heralded “Swamp Blues” sound. After a brief post-Excello hiatus from music, Lazy Lester has continued to make wonderful music and proudly occupies the position of the greatest living “Swamp Blues” ambassador. He has recorded albums for Alligator Records, Antone’s, Ruf, Telarc, and Cambaya, and his early Excello recordings have been reissued many times on numerous labels. Lazy Lester regularly tours the US, Europe and South America, and was recently a highlight of the 2010 Amanda’s Roller Coaster harmonica gathering.
Upholding a grand tradition, You Better Listen allows us another chapter of Lazy Lester’s great music, brought to a new decade and an international stage. Lovingly produced by guitarist Morten Omlid and harmonicist Jostein Forsberg, this CD highlights Lester’s vocals, harmonica playing and guitar work through the eyes of two seasoned Norwegian blues musicians. This CD production is unique in that it features a number of tracks where Lester has overdubbed harmonica after the fact, allowing him a few different roles simultaneously in a song. The backing band for this project is Spoonful Of Blues, a group of sensitive and capable traditional blues players, who are Lazy Lester’s regular band for annual tours of Norway. From the opening notes of the romping Lightnin’ Slim classic “Rooster Blues”, with Lester playing backing harmonica over his lead vocals, we see a formula that really works. Lester’s down-home guitar is in prominence on “Ethel Mae”, a Lighnin’ Hopkins derived original, and a powerful slow blues standout. Who has more right to cover “Scratch My Back” then the man who played percussion on the original Slim Harpo hit? Lazy Lester’s love of country music is celebrated with two delightful performances; a great version of the Roy Acuff classic “Blues Eyes Crying In The Rain”, which has been converted into a rousing swamp blues rocker, and the instrumental ”Paradise Stomp”, a sweet harmonica melody that is a fitting album closer. Throughout this fine program of a dozen songs, both originals and covers come through as vibrant performances, all masterfully “owned” by Lazy Lester. The recording studio in Norway was, for a few days, transformed into the swamps of Louisiana. Thanks to Morten and Jostein for their caring production of this fine album that is un-apologetically Lazy Lester!
-Bob Corritore, January 2011