With a striking stage presence and undeniably soulful bass baritone voice, you should already be listening to contemporary blues vocalist, songwriter and bandleader Bruce ‘Mississippi’ Johnson.
Born Bruce Lester Johnson in Starksville, Mississippi and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Bruce received a musical education most people can only dream about. As a child in his grandfather’s church choir and surrounded by his father’s soul and R&B influenced record collection that included Al Green, Jackie Wilson (his mum’s first cousin), Lou Rawls and Gil Scott-Heron, Bruce discovered he could sing.
His life story to date is fascinating, replete with vivid and memorable experiences. Bruce served as a US Marine for seven years, and while stationed in Kinshasa, Zaire he performed Gil Scott-Heron tracks. It was towards the end of his enlistment while stationed in Paris and being enveloped in a city full of music and nightlife, that he realised he wanted singing to be his full time profession. Showcasing his extraordinary talent in various Parisian venues he soon built a formidable reputation on the jazz scene, working with the city’s luminaries and musicians who had played with the likes of Stan Getz and Sammy Davis Jr.
With a growing influence, he branched out and formed his own band, becoming a leading light in the funk scene. Bruce and the band were invited to perform in the Jack Daniel’s Music Competition in Bordeaux judged by Nina Simone and blew the competition out of the water. The win gave Bruce the impetus to record his first single and cement his reputation as a star.
Soon, Bruce was keen to create a more earthier sound, affiliated to the Delta region he called home. He was given the opportunity to join legendary blues bassist Big Joe Turner’s band Blues Caravan as a vocalist, which gave him the chance to tour the world. He formed a solid bond with the keyboard player Johan Dalgaard and the two began to write and demo songs that would eventually become his solo album The Deal Baby.
His fame in France saw him compete on the French version of The Voice and land a gig with one of France’s leading “Rat Pack” ensembles, Forever Gentleman. The band’s album of jazz vocal standards went triple platinum.
Bruce’s debut solo album The Deal Baby was released in Spring 2017 to critical acclaim. It straddles soul, blues and jazz with glimpses of bluesy-rock guitars, augmented by his textured, classic voice. Featuring heartfelt compositions including I Can’t Shake the Blues and The Neighbour Next Door, it was recorded in Paris and mixed by Grammy Award winning sound engineer Veronica Ferraro.
The album has received rave reviews from listeners and critics, with The Wall Street Journal describing it as, ‘an impressive, long brewing introduction to a fine dramatic storyteller in the Bobby Bland soul blues tradition with 70’s Influences’. Its timeless material instantly brings to mind the music of Johnny “Guitar’ Watson, Gil Scott-Heron, Lou Rawls, Robert Cray, Bobby Bland and more.
London-based Bruce will tour Europe in 2018, including Paris in April and in the basement of London’s Pizza Express, Holborn on 19 October, an intimate space known for showcasing the biggest names in music.
In 2017, London-based Bruce was awarded the Living Blues Magazine’s Living Blues Award for “Artist Deserving More Attention”. With a unique and effortlessly soulful baritone voice, this gifted and charismatic performer is definitely worthy of your recognition; a force to be reckoned with and the embodiment of contemporary Mississippi Blues.
In other words, Bruce is the real Deal, Baby.
Feature by Nicola Greenbrook & Portraits by Edyta K