Keith Johnson has been a regular at the Juke Joint Festival for several years.
Johnson, a Glen Allan native, comes from a long line of musicians and his great uncle Muddy Waters came from the Stovall plantation in Coahoma County. His love for music developed at a young age and he eventually started coming to Clarksdale regularly.
“I started playing gospel music on the guitar and then I started playing the blues,” Johnson said. “At about 21 years old, I started playing traditional blues music.”
Johnson plays gospel music at New Hope First Baptist Church in Greenville.
His favorite song that he wrote is “Come to Mississippi.” He said Mississippi is the birthplace of the blues and the birthplace of American music.
“In Mississippi, in general, in the Delta, you’ve got to have soul to sing the blues – the sound, the harmonica, the slide guitar, the stories,” Johnson said.
Johnson heard stories about Clarksdale for much of his life.
“Clarksdale is at the center of the blues,” Johnson said. “Being here right on 61 is the Crossroads.”
A few years back, Johnson visited the Delta Blues Museum and started coming to town more frequently.
“Since then, I’ve been playing with Delta State University at the Juke Joint Festival – the Old School Revue band,” Johnson said. “After that, we’ve been in Ground Zero the past two-to-three years with the Big Muddy Band.”
Johnson said he would be attending the Juke Joint Festival scheduled for Thursday through Sunday. Although he does not have any bookings, he did not rule out the possibility of playing if asked.
Johnson played for the first time in Clarksdale since the COVID pandemic began.
Keith Johnson and the Big Muddy Band played at the Ground Zero Blues Club last Saturday night. George Munford, Jock Webb, Charles Ross and Adrian Miles are the other members of the band.
“I missed it,” Johnson said. “I missed the atmosphere. The true blues at Ground Zero, the real blues is played here. There’s nothing fake or washed up. The spirit of the blues is in Ground Zero.”
Johnson works in human resource management at Harlow’s Casino in Greenville, but he still found time to play virtually at festivals during the pandemic. He played virtually at the Mississippi Delta Heritage Festival and the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena-West Helena, Ark.
“I think people will still do it, so that people that aren’t able – more of the disabled people, people that aren’t able to travel – can still get that band experience,” Johnson said.
But, for Johnson, nothing beats the personal touch.
“There’s nothing like being here, letting music slap you in the face,” Johnson said.
Johnson came to Ground Zero from the Catfish in the Alley festival in Columbus. He was pleased with the crowd at Ground Zero.
“You still have people that haven’t been vaccinated, people that are waiting on things to calm down,” Johnson said. “I think this would probably be packed from the front to the back and it’s a nice crowd out there now.
“I’m just having a good time. I’m ready to hit some more festivals and play some blues.”