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Johnny Burgin (born July 17, 1969) is an American blues guitarist and harmonica player who learned his craft from the masters of Chicago blues on the city's South and West sides. Since 1997, he has released seven recordings under his own name and played on numerous other recordings as a sideman to many blues legends.
Johnny Burgin was a student and college radio DJ at the University of Chicago when a chance encounter in 1988 with fellow DJ/harp player David Waldman, who played and recorded with Tail Dragger, Smokey Smothers and others, led to a trip to Chicago's West Side to meet and sit in with Tail Dragger.
Although Burgin had already been playing gigs since high school, his initial complete failure in an authentic blues club setting led him to throw away his guitar playing style and start from scratch. He focused on learning an authentic blues style and worked every Thursday night at Lilly's in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood with the Ice Cream Men, a band of blues purists that included Steve Cushing on drums, Scott Dirks on harp and Dave Waldman on guitar. The Ice Cream Men regularly backed traditional Chicago blues artists like Golden "Big" Wheeler, Tail Dragger, Jimmy Lee Robinson and Bonnie Lee.
Within a few years, Burgin was hired by Tail Dragger and began playing four nights a week on Chicago's West Side with seasoned blues performers such as Eddie Burks, Mary Lane, Johnny B. Moore, Lurrie Bell, Little Mack Simmons, Little Arthur Duncan, Jimmy Dawkins and Johnny Littlejohn, to name just a few. He toured the Midwest with Pinetop Perkins, who often had Dave Meyers, a member of the Aces, on bass. Burgin got his first taste of intensive national touring when he went on the road for two years with legendary Howlin' Wolf/Paul Butterfield drummer Sam Lay.
In 1994, Burgin began what became a very popular residency at Smoke Daddy in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. The band featured Jimmy Burns on vocals and guitar, college mate Martin Lang on harp, Sho Komiya on bass, and either Kenny Smith (son of Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, the great Muddy Waters drummer) or Kelly Littleton (longtime drummer for Lil' Ed Williams). This residency gave Burgin's career a boost when Bob Koester, founder of Delmark Records, signed Jimmy Burns with Burgin's band after hearing one set back in 1996.
Soon after that big break, Burgin recorded his debut CD (Straight Out of Chicago) as a band leader in 1997. The CD cemented his reputation as one of the hottest blues band in Chicago in the 1990s and led to collaborations with many legendary blues musicians and the beginning of his European tours.
In 2002 Burgin left the music business completely to raise his family, but returned full force in January 2009 to the business he loves. Since his return to music, he has become recognized as a mature, committed blues artist. In the June 1, 2015 edition of the Chicago Tribune, reporter Rick Kogan said this about Burgin: "There are few more passionate practitioners of [blues] music than Johnny Burgin."
Since his return to the music scene, Burgin redoubled his efforts in the studio and released four new CDs between 2010 and 2017. He also has steadily increased his touring schedule and currently performs more than 250 nights a year. A 2016 move from Chicago to Petaluma, CA, brought new collaborations with leading old and new West Coast players such as Aki Kumar, Kid Andersen, Alabama Mike, Nick Gravenites, Nancy Wright and Andy Santana.
After releasing seven recordings as a band leader since 1997 and working as a sideman on many other recordings, Burgin has established himself as a bona fide bluesman. These quotes from noted blues experts explain his style:
"R.J. plays Chicago Blues-his guitar style is raw and rude and real. On the vocal side, I can hear a little touch of Junior Parker, a little Magic Sam, but mostly just a nice original style. He's damn good!"
--Elvin Bishop, Alligator recording artist and original member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band
"Burgin pays tribute to all the blues kings as he loosely riffs on guitar with [Aki] Kumar on harp. This is really is the path of the contemporary blues. I hope that the young players are listening. This is it! Truly amazing release!"
--From the March 24, 2017 review of Neoprene Fedora by Bman's Blues Report
"He has become a shoot-from-the-hip guitar slinger who knows his material very well. And he likes to play loose, stretch it out, push the limits, get a little wild....Listening to the practiced chaos of Johnny's leads is like watching an acid-addled hippie teetering at the edge of a cliff, but pirouetting to safety in the nick of time....Burgin's guitar playing will keep transcriptionists busy for a long while. This is a thrilling and thoroughly fun ride for the Chicago blues cognoscenti who are not faint of heart."
--From Justin O'Brien's review of Burgin's, Greetings from Greaseland in Living Blues magazine (2015, Vol. 46, Issue 3)
"One of the major reasons that Burgin has never lacked for a gig - whether with his own outfit or whether backing someone else - has to be the individualistic sound he pulls from his guitar. There are certainly touches of the 1950s Chess-era blues at the surface,but there are also embellishments of a more modern, a more non-traditional sound, to boot. Add it all up and what you have is the unmistakable sound of Rockin' Johnny Burgin."
--Feature story by Terry Mullins in the Oct. 9, 2015 edition of Blues Blast magazine
"While today's blues has more than its share of flashy guitar gunslingers, Rockin' Johnny Burgin dives into the music with more depth, heart and mind than any hotshot soloist. He embraces the entire blues tradition, not just the familiar Delta-Chicago refrains, but also the West Coast jump of his adopted California home."
Aaron Cohen, Senior Contributing Editor, Downbeat magazine
Johnny Burgin was born July 17, 1969, in Williamsport, PA, but grew up mostly in Starkville, MS, his father's hometown. Burgin's father was an actor and folk musician who taught Burgin how to play guitar. Burgin moved to Chicago in 1988 to attend the University of Chicago. He had planned to become a writer, but fell into the local blues scene and never looked back.
He relocated from Chicago to California in 2016 and currently resides in Petaluma, CA.
AS A BAND LEADER
|Neoprene Fedora||2017||West Tone||Features Kid Andersen, Nancy Wright, Aki Kumar and Alabama Mike|
|Greetings from Greaseland||2015||West Coast Records||Features Kid Andersen (guitar) and Aki Kumar (harp)|
|Grim Reaper||2012||Delmark||Reached #7 on the Living Blues Radio charts|
|Now's the Time||2010||5105 Music|
|More Real Folk Blues||2000||Midwest Artists||Out of print|
|Straight Out of Chicago||1997||Delmark|
AS A SIDEMAN
|Howlin' At Greaseland||John Blues Boyd, Tail Dragger, Terry Hanck and Alabama Mike||West Tone||An all-star cast of Chicago and California musicians pay tribute to the music of Howlin' Wolf|
|Chicago Blues Harp Sessions||Martin Lang||2015||Random Chance|
|Cell Phone Man||Willie Buck||2014||Delmark||
Live At Rooster's Lounge
|Tail Dragger||Delmark (DVD)||
|Chicago Jump||Jimmy Lee Robinson||2004||Random Chance|
|Killer Diller||Shirley Johnson||2002||Delmark|
|Alive in the City||The Mighty Blue Kings||2001|
|delay Does Chicago||Paul deLay||1999||Evidence||
|Singin' With the Sun||Little Arthur Duncan||1999||Delmark||
|American People||Tail Dragger||1999||Delmark|
Rockin' After Midnight
|Various Artists||1998||St. George||
|Rib Tips Live||Little Arthur Duncan||1997||Random Chance|
|Blues Before Sunrise:
Live Vol. 1
|John Brim, Billy Boy Arnold,
Big Wheeler, Jimmy Burns
|1997||Delmark||A Benefit for Steve Cushing's Radio Show|
|Leaving Here Walking||Jimmy Burns||1996||Delmark||
|Crawlin' Kingsnake||Tail Dragger and
His Chicago Blues Band
|Lonely Traveler||Jimmy Lee Robinson||1993||Delmark|
|Big Wheeler's Bone Orchard
with the Ice Cream Men
|Golden "Big" Wheeler||1992||Delmark|
"Cold Chill" - Rockin' Johnny Burgin with Jeremy Johnson, 2017 Bayfront Blues Festival, Duluth, MN, Aug. 13, 2017"
"Guitar King" - Rockin' Johnny Burgin live at Little Lou's BBQ, Campbell, CA, May 18, 2017
"The Talkin' Blues Podcast Episode 64: Rockin' Johnny Burgin," by Mako Funasaka, April 5, 2017
"Killing Floor," - Rockin' Johnny Burgin & Aki Kumar, Down Home Kivi, Tampere, Finland, March 3, 2016
Rockin' Johnny Burgin LIVE in California! 2015 - with Aki Kumar, Rusty Zinn, Vance Ehlers and Ronnie Smith
Tail Dragger with Rockin' Johnny - Blues Makers Soundstage, RPTV Studios, Romeoville, IL, Sept. 24, 2014
Rockin' Johnny Band - Blues Makers Soundstage, RPTV Studios, Romeoville, IL, June 11, 2013