A tireless soloist and side man, Randy Johnston has released 12 albums as a leader and has appeared on dozens of recordings with a wide variety of jazz recording artists. Keith Hall talks to the prolific guitarist in a live session in WMUK's Takeda Studio, where Johnston brings to life stories about his performing life with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Houston Person, Etta Jones, Lonnie Smith, and Lou Donaldson.
Randy Johnston and Keith Hall start their conversation by remembering Johnston's early days in Detroit, where he lived until he was 13. Music was everywhere, he says - he loved Motown artists and rock bands like MC5 and the Bob Seger System - but it was the Beatles phenomenon that made him want to play guitar. When his family returned to their southern roots in Richmond, VA, Johnston says he channeled some of the frustration at being a new student at a new school into hours of guitar practice. By his late teens, Johnston was playing in a popular band that advertised itself as suitable for "dances and pool parties."
Johnston's path to becoming an indispensible guitarist in jazz organ groups was not direct, he tells Hall, but he learned a lot from the bandleaders who did hire him early on. Later, he played for 18 years with the Lou Donaldson Quartet. Johnston has devoted the last several years to producing solo albums. The latest is 2019's Cherry Juice.