Lazy Lester

June 20, 1933 –

Recording history: late 1950’s into the 1960’s for Excello, late 1980’s for Blue Horizon/Alligator, 1990’s and later for Antone’s/Telarc

Also recorded with: Lightnin’ Slim, Slim Harpo, and others

Important/historic recordings: “Sugar Coated Love”, “I Hear You Knockin'”, “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter”, “Pondarosa Stomp”

Random fact: Although Lazy Lester is known for his songwriting and harmonica playing, he originally got his break for his recording debut by accident (Lightnin’ Slim’s harp player never showed for a recording session) and Lester was used. Excello was so pleased that they used Lester not only to record on his own and with Lightnin’ Slim, but also on other instruments backing up some of their other artists, including Slim Harpo.

About: Born Leslie Johnson in Louisiana, he got his break after accompanying Excello Records artist Lightnin’ Slim to the studio during a session where the harmonica player never showed up (as mentioned above). Lester was asked to fill in and the rest, as they say, is history. Jay Miller (producer – Excello Records) dubbed Lester “Lazy” due to his laid-back approach and his slow, unhurried manner of speaking. Soon Lester was putting out popular records on Excello such as “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter”, “Sugar Coated Love”, “Tell Me Pretty Baby”, “They Call Me Lazy” and “I Hear You Knockin'”. Lazy Lester and his songs during this period (late 1950’s) did a lot to establish himself, and the sound/style of  “swamp blues” that the Excello label became known for. His laid-back style of harmonica playing (which in some cases consists of the harp copying the vocal melody of a song) has proved to be very influential.

In the mid-late 1960’s Lester decided to take a break from the music scene and find other forms of employment. In 1971 he reunited with Lightnin’ Slim and joined him for a memorable concert in Michigan. By 1975 he “retired”, only to get back recording in the late 1980’s and have somewhat of a musical comeback with a recording in the UK, and one in the US (“Harp and Soul” on the Alligator label). Since then Lester has recorded a few more times sporadically, and remains one of the few living legends not only of the “swamp blues” sound, but also of the very influential harmonica players & blues artists from that whole era. Lazy Lester’s sound & approach (like fellow Excello recording artist Slim Harpo) incorporates blues, country, and even early rock & roll influences, which gives his music a wider appeal and makes his material approachable for musicians of many different genres.

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter”- Ace (cool early Excello sides)
  • “Harp And Soul” - Alligator (good recording from the 1980’s)
  • “Blues Stop Knockin'” - Antone’s (great newer recording)
  • “All Over You” - Antone’s (acclaimed newer recording)

I’ve found the best selection of blues harmonica CDs to be available at:

blues harmonica, blues harp, lessons, history

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