by Peter M. Hurley
What to say, what to say? Johnny Iguana’s website bio covers the broad spectrum of his musical accomplishments in recording, recording, band-forming, and general ability to create a thunderous impression whenever and with whomever he plays. I mean, at the age of 22 the guy was handpicked by Jr. Wells to tour with him for three years. And later Otis Rush. His recording career? He’s on everything with everyone and for good reason.
The aforementioned web bio speaks of his influences: A short list of Johnny’s major musical inspirations: Otis Spann, Jay McShann, Ray Charles, Mose Allison, Bobby Timmons, Mike Watt, Bob Mould, Joe Strummer, Captain Beefheart and the near, dear, late, great Junior Wells. Johnny is a proud carrier of tradition (including the Chicago blues that uprooted him from his East Coast home and planted him firmly in the Windy City) but is even more proud to have developed abusive organ tones and a highly rhythmic, very “in-the-moment” piano style that sounds like no one else.
“When I’m playing live, I don’t think about the past, only the moment” says the “hammer and tickle” virtuoso. “I listen to what’s around me, I often close my eyes, and I am thrilled to exist in that moment that will never happen again. If only the rest of life could be like ‘clicking’ with the musicians around you on stage.”
Check out his most recent highly acclaimed inaugural blues cd as a leader on Delmark Records, “Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular!” Johnny on a 100-year-old upright and Lil’ Ed, John Primer, Billy Boy Arnold, Phillip-Michael Scales, Bob Margolin, Matthew Skoller, Billy Flynn, Kenny Smith, Bill Dickens and Michael Caskey on their respective axes and vocals. Play it real loud and dig it from the down-in-the-bottom up.
Photo taken at a multiple piano player Tribute To Barrelhouse Chuck, Chicago Blues Fest, June 9, 2017.
– Peter M. Hurley 1/13/21
Mr. Hurley is a contributing photographer and writer for Living Blues Magazine and the staff photographer for Chicago Blues Network. His recent book Blues Legacy: Tradition and Innovation in Chicago, in collaboration with Blues historian and author David Whiteis, showcases his work in the field. His passion for blues music began with the Chess Studios’ sound of Bo Diddley and continues to this day. Visit Peter’s Website here.