BLUESMAN ENDS 25-YEAR DROUGHT : GEORGIA'S JENKINS STILL HARBORS BAD FEELINGS, BUT THE MAN WHOSE STYLE INFLUENCED HENDRIX IS READY TO GIVE THE MUSIC BIZ ANOTHER SHOT.
To paraphrase Georgia blues singer-guitarist Johnny Jenkins: ``Don't start me talkin', but if you do, don't expect me to say anything nice about Otis Redding.''
Jenkins, whose reputation is primarily based on the out-of-print ``Ton Ton Macoute!'' disc cut in 1970 with members of the Allman Brothers Band, hired the then-unknown Redding in 1960 for his band Johnny Jenkins & the Pinetoppers.
When Pinetoppers manager Phil Walden began grooming Redding for solo stardom, Jenkins was shunted aside and ignored, the guitarist claims. Not only that, but bad blood surrounding the making and marketing of ``Macoute!'' for Walden's Capricorn label left Jenkins in self-imposed exile from the music business for the past 25 years.
``I just lay there,'' Jenkins said. ``I was so hurt because of what happened to me during and after that album. There were a lot of bad feelings. They kept me in the dark about a lot of things. I was just a poor country boy with no education.''
But in an unexpected twist, Walden last year asked Jenkins to cut a second solo album. Out now is the wonderful ``Blessed Blues'' (Capricorn), containing convincing covers of blues and r&b standards ``Statesboro Blues,'' ``Don't Start Me Talkin' '' and ``Drowning on Dry Land,'' plus several Jenkins-penned originals.
What changed? Why did Jenkins agree to make another album for Walden a quarter-century down the road?
``I heard Phil wanted to talk to me,'' Jenkins said from his longtime home in Macon, Ga. ``He told me things that seemed more reasonable and right, so I said I'd try it. We started off with the right understanding about money and the more we talked, the more confidence I had in him. I respect him now.
``For my part, I was always willing to forgive and forget because holding grudges never paid off for anybody.''
According to Capricorn label chief Walden, Jenkins' gripes about the past amount to a ``convenient view'' of history.
``First of all, I love Johnny,'' Walden said in a separate interview. ``He was my first client. There was a time when my entire world revolved around the guitar strings of Johnny Jenkins. But we were young kids when all these things were taking place. I can't recall business decisions I made at 19 years of age. But I don't think I had any secret agenda.
``The Redding thing had to do with the fact that Otis was a very talented and ambitious person. We had a great relationship. He came by the office every day. I discovered the world of a Southern black man through him, and Otis discovered the world of a Southern white man through me. I wish my relationship with Johnny had been like that.''
During his inactive years, the 66-year-old Jenkins simply stayed home and took care of the house. He dropped out of sight so thoroughly that his name appears in not one of a dozen commonly used rock and blues reference books.
``My wife worked, and later on my children grew and got jobs, and they helped support me,'' he explained. ``I was invited to play clubs, but I didn't want to take part in it, and I refused to play with any of the guys. Their minds weren't into business, so I laid up at home and kept to myself and my family. Some of these guys had moved from reefer on to other things, and their minds weren't all there. I hate drugs, period. Don't want to have nothing to do with them.''
Joining Jenkins on ``Blessed Blues'' are members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Allmans-Rolling Stones pianist Chuck Leavell, and bassist Johnny Sandlin. It's a solid delta-blues effort and a strong contender for blues album of the year.
``I said, `Make this album exactly the way you want,' '' Walden recalled telling Jenkins last year. ``I wanted him to pick the material and the players. I said, `This is your album.' I wanted it as live and organic as possible. I'm exceptionally proud of it. It's a magnificent return for Johnny.''
Walden said he has wanted to cut another album with Jenkins ever since ``Macoute!''
``I'm lining up good management, an accountant and an independent attorney for Johnny,'' Walden said. ``I'm really trying to get it set up so he can go out and earn himself a handsome living. I anticipate a great deal of interest in Johnny. He's an American orginal.''
Allman Brothers fans might also know Jenkins from both volumes of ``Duane Allman: An Anthology,'' separate double-albums that compiled the late Duane Allman's session work. Jenkins tracks from ``Macoute!'' featuring Allman on slide guitar appeared on both packages.
Walden, whose reactivated Capricorn label currently has a hit high in the albums chart by young alternative-rockers 311, has nothing but admiration for Jenkins.
``Jimi Hendrix admitted to having sat at his feet, copying everything he played,'' Walden said. ``They both played the same way: upside down and left-handed. Johnny was playing the guitar behind his head and with his teeth back in 1958.''
Jenkins never saw himself as a rock player. And as for Redding, Jenkins claims the great r&b vocalist was ``all wrong and no right.''
According to Jenkins, the singer of ``Try a Little Tenderness'' and ``(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay'' was ``never a showman. He never could dance or move. He just stood in one spot. And he never had a voice. The truth was never told the whole time he was popular. I was his backup player. I had to correct all his wrongs and cover for him on stage. All this new history came out later, after he died. He would do anything to be in the limelight.''
Apparently at the root of Jenkins' bitterness is the media attention, lucrative bookings and recording contracts Redding received, while Jenkins' own career was left to founder.
``They stopped supporting me and threw all the attention on him,'' Jenkins said. ``They kept me hid. I can't say who did it, but I'll tell you it happened. They took my music and gave my licks to a white boy (guitarist Steve Cropper), but he couldn't play like me because I'm left-handed and play upside down. If you notice the first two or three Otis records with Cropper, you'll see he's copying what I used to play behind Otis. But he just couldn't follow through.''
Jenkins said he split with Redding partly over the use of an airplane for touring. Redding was killed at age 26 when his plane crashed in Madison, Wis., on Dec. 10, 1967.
``They bought him that rickety secondhand plane, and I didn't approve of it,'' Jenkins insisted. ``He wanted to travel by plane, and I didn't. I said there was no money in the world that would make me risk my life.''
Walden, however, said Jenkins didn't display the sort of motivation and commitment to his career that Redding did.
``Johnny didn't want to tour,'' Walden said. ``The world was not going to come to Macon, Ga., to beckon him away. Plus, I have no doubt that if I were Jenkins and I witnessed the phenomenal rise of my singer (Redding) to world status, I'd have resented it, too.''
Walden said that after ``Macoute!'' was released, an important gig for Jenkins at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival for more than 200,000 people was a disaster.
``We rehearsed for weeks, and then Johnny got up there and abandoned everything we had worked on and began to play songs,'' Walden said. ``I was a little startled and confused to say the least. Then, someone who had ingested too many chemicals jumped on stage nude and began dancing around him. It wasn't the success we thought it would be.
``We just didn't sense that the commitment was there from Johnny in the long run. So we agreed to tear up the contract.''
Along with everything else, Jenkins was unhappy with ``Macoute!'' which he claims was an attempt to sell him as a trippy, Hendrix-style electric bluesman.
``That never was my style,'' Jenkins said. ``I kept telling them I was never a Hendrix type. They kept me psychedelicized!''
Jenkins, who still refuses to fly, might tour behind ``Blessed Blues,'' but only by car or bus. It's taken 25 years, but Jenkins is beginning to believe his country-flavored blues just might be blessed after all.
Photo: ``I was always willing to forgive and forget because holding grudges never paid off for anybody,'' says country-blues singer-guitarist Johnny Jenkins, who has released his first record since 1970.
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 28, 1996|
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