Richard Leo Johnson was raised in America’s deep South, in a small Arkansas town in the Mississippi Delta. He began playing guitar at age 9, briefly taking lessons from a hard-drinking oil field worker before deciding he’d learn more on his own.
Johnson is one of the most innovative and inspired guitarists/composers on the current American music scene. Amazon.com’s
editors called Johnson “perhaps the next in a short line of guitar greats – a line that includes [Michael] Hedges, Derek Bailey, Pat Metheny,
Sonny Sharrock, and a few others,” while Playboy touted him as “...perhaps the most innovative guitarist since Jim Hendrix...”
Johnson’s style is characterized by complexity, emotion and hauntingly unfamiliar harmonies created through ‘found’ tunings,
marks this self-taught player apart from any other musician.
With six records under his belt, including two for the prestigious Blue Note label, three with Cuneiform, the recent self released "Celeste", and hours of unreleased material, Richard has amassed an amazing amount of critical acclaim as well as a large catalog of provocative and original music.
"...On "The Legend of Vernon McAlister'', Mr. Johnson revels in the Duolian's metallic tone, its resonances, its sharp plinks and its capacity to slide and sustain. The pieces he overdubbed often draw on folky picking patterns, but those down-home materials can be enveloped in eerie near-electronic wails, quasi-orchestral surges and spiky percussive sounds -all made with just that steel guitar. It sounds as if Mr. Johnson has
glimpsed the Duolian's haunted inner life. ..."
-Jon Pareles, The New York Times
"Be prepared...the extraordinary Richard Leo Johnson isn't quite like any guitarist you've ever heard before." – Jazzwise
"The Savannah-based savant takes it to a new level of “outness,” as in outer space,
on this stirring, mad-genius outing...Playing a custom Martin guitar with a theremin built into the body,
the fingerstyle guitarist is able to sound at once pastoral and otherworldly..."
Bill Milkowski ---DownBeat 4 1/2 stars out of 5
"If you like...The innovative instrumental guitar work of Leo Kottke or John Fahey, pick up Richard Leo Johnson's recent acoustic
Language ." -Entertainment Weekly
"...Johnson's impressive major label debut...evokes images of other acoustic guitarists who've been know to give their fingers and imagination free reign. including Leo Kottke and John Fahey. ...The album opens with a bold flourish. as Johnson, using sliding chords, ringing harmonics and a final chromatic sweep of the fretboard, creates a steel-string rhapsody of sounds... It's the first of several tracks that emphasize the acoustic guitar's percussive personality in dazzling fashion. Yet some of the music that follows... reveals another dimension of Johnson's playing. In fact, his flair for changing course now and again makes boarding "Fingertip Ship" all the more rewarding ."
-Mike Joyce, Washington Post,
"Who Knew Charlie Shoe? is another fine album in a string of winners that, much like Bill Frisell's Americana records, takes a tradition,
turns it on its side, and creates something sounding both familiar and new."
“All About Jazz” John Kelman
"Best known for his blazing speed and unusual techniques on the acoustic guitar, "Richard Leo Johnson has emerged from the fringe of the Mississippi Delta to become one of the baddest axe slingers in the land."
"A rustic strain of ambient Americana has been in the wind for the last year or so, with Daniel Lanois's solo pedal steel album, Belladonna, and Jeff Beal's literally haunted score to Carnavale taking American roots into ambient spaces. Richard Leo Johnson's The Legend of Vernon McAlister may have upped the ante. Richard Leo Johnson has created an album of hidden and subtle charms."
– John Diliberto, Amazon.com editorial review
"Richard Leo Johnson , whose 12 string playing is beyond definition...some of it tinged with the spirit and the swing of jazz. His "Language" (3 stars, Blue Note) places him in ... attractive instrumental settings, in some cases with briskly swinging results. Other pieces emphasize his remarkable technique and the colorful ,orchestral-like sound textures he generates from his instrument "
-Don Heckman ,"Spotlight,"Los Angeles Times