Johnny Jenkins

Guitarist who influenced Hendrix
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The Independent Online

Johnny Edward Jenkins, guitarist, bandleader and songwriter: born 5 March 1939; married Janest Durham (died 2001; two sons, one daughter); died Macon, Georgia 26 June 2006.

Before taking the world by storm in the second half of the Sixties with his incendiary guitar playing, Jimi Hendrix was a musician for hire with the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and Curtis Knight. While visiting relatives in Georgia, he came across Johnny Jenkins, a flamboyant left-handed player who was leading a band called the Pinetoppers.

Hendrix was also left-handed, self-taught, and always used a right-handed guitar upside down. He was captivated by Jenkins's bluesy, funky playing and his dynamic performance and incorporated some of his tricks and antics into his own stage show. By 1969, Hendrix had become the most famous guitarist in the world but still remembered Jenkins and jammed with him in New York on several occasions.

When he was leading the Pinetoppers, Jenkins worked with another star who defined the Sixties, hiring the young Otis Redding as valet, chauffeur and lead vocalist with his group. Indeed, the soul singer made his recording début with the ballad "These Arms of Mine" at the end of a 1962 session their manager Phil Walden had arranged at the Stax studios in Memphis, ostensibly for Johnny Jenkins to record a follow-up to his local instrumental hit "Love Twist".

Originally issued in 1961 with a rocking B-side entitled "Pinetop" on Tifco Records, a small Atlanta-based label, "Love Twist" had sold 25,000 copies before being picked up by Atlantic for national distribution. However, the follow-up session didn't go too well for Jenkins, who only managed to cut two tracks, "Spunky" and "Bashful Guitar" which eventually surfaced on the Stax subsidiary Volt in 1964. With 40 minutes left, Redding got his chance, and Jenkins even played guitar on "These Arms of Mine" since the noted session man Steve Cropper had switched to piano when the keyboardist Booker T. Jones went home.

Walden had made his name booking Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers at college and high-school parties while he was still a student and felt a measure of guilt at having edged the guitarist out of the proceedings. Following the death of Redding in a plane crash in December 1967, the manager attempted to relaunch Jenkins's career with the help of the drummer Butch Trucks, bassist Berry Oakley and guitarist Duane Allman.

The three members of the Allman Brothers Band played on Jenkins's swampy début album, Ton-Ton Macoute!, released on Capricorn/Atlantic in 1970. This album has become something of a collector's item, thanks to its opening track, an excellent version of Dr John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" which has been sampled by everyone from Beck - on "Loser", his 1994 worldwide hit - to Oasis. However, when Walden began dedicating most of his energies to the Allman Brothers Band and his Capricorn label, Jenkins became increasingly disenchanted and drifted out of music until the second half of the Nineties.

In 1996, Walden coaxed him back and Jenkins recorded "Blessed Blues" with Chuck Leavell, another Allman Brothers' alumnus (now touring with the Rolling Stones). The blues guitarist who refused to be forgotten issued a further two albums, Handle With Care and All in Good Time on Mean Old World Records.

Born in 1939 on a small farm in Swift Creek, near Macon, Johnny Jenkins made his own guitar out of a cigar box and rubber bands when he was nine. He listened to hillbilly music on the radio before attempting to follow in the footsteps of Ike Turner and Chuck Berry and forming Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers - which eventually featured Samuel Davis (rhythm guitar), Wille Bowden (drums), Ish Mosley (saxophone) and Otis Redding.

"I thought my entire world rotated around Johnny Jenkins' guitar. I was convinced he could have been the greatest thing in rock'n'roll," Walden said at the time of Jenkins's comeback in 1996.

Pierre Perrone

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