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The Upbeat: Johnnie Bassett

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009

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Born: Oct. 9, 1935, in Marianna, Fla.

Sound: Blues

Influences: Aaron “T-Bone” Walker, Tampa Red, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, B.B. King, Tiny Grimes, Billy Butler, Albert King and Lonnie Johnson — many of whom a young Bassett heard playing at fish fries his grandmother threw in Florida. “They were my dad’s friends,” recalls Bassett, whose father was a traveling alcohol bootlegger. “He would meet them on the road. I didn’t know they were gonna be big names till I got to be a teenager and we moved to Michigan and I’d hear them on records.”

Day jobs: Though Bassett has spent much of his life as a full-time musician, he did a stint in the army, stationed in Seattle — where he lived for a time and met a young Jimi Hendrix — and also worked as a cab dispatcher and an auto factory line worker back in Detroit.

Six-String Seduction: Bassett started playing guitar as a teenager, after his family moved to Detroit. His sister had an old arched-topped instrument, and a neighbor gave him informal lessons on the front porch at night. “I’d work in it for three, four hours at a time,” says Bassett, who got his first electric guitar as a gift from an older brother. “That was the start. I just fell in love with it.”

Doing Detroit: Bassett’s early playing experience was with Uncle Jessie White, and he formed the Bluenotes with keyboardist Joe Weaver, playing shows with John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner and Ruth Brown, among others, and serving as the house band at Detroit’s Fortune Records. The group also worked at Chess Records in Chicago and backed the Miracles on early sessions, including one that produced the single “Got a Job.” “It was fun, just fun — that’s all we were having,” Bassett remembers. “They didn’t ever pay us. They sent out and got some lunch meat and some crackers and some pop, fed us some lunch, and we went right to playing. They still owe us for that session!”

Hear him: Bassett’s first album in more than a decade, “The Gentleman is Back,” comes out Tuesday on Sly Dog Records, a subsidiary of Harper Woodsbased Mack Avenue Records.

See ’em: Bassett and the Blues Insurgents perform at the sixth annual Jazzin’ On Jefferson festival, which runs 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday on East Jefferson Avenue between Chalmers and Alter streets in Detroit. Other performers include Johnny O’Neal, Priscilla Price & Band, Relativity with Pat Seymour, Deon Yates, the Vincent Chandler Septet, Planet D Nonet and more. For information visit www. jazzinonjefferson.com. Bassett will also play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Cliff Bell’s, 2030 Park Ave., Detroit. Call (313) 961-2543 or visit www.cliffbells. com. Bassett will join the Brothers Groove and the Motor City Horns at 9 p.m. July 2 at the Comerica Cityfest (www.comericacityfest.com), and he plays every Monday night at Mugshot Bar & Grill, 17305 Harper Ave., Detroit. Call (313) 343-9901.

Surf him: www.myspace.com/johnniebassett

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