Biography All Music GuideWikipedia
All Music Guide:
Contrary to his colorful sobriquet, (supplied by prolific south Louisiana producer J.D. Miller), harpist Lazy Lester swears he never was all that lethargic. But he seldom was in much of a hurry either, although the relentless pace of his Excello Records swamp blues classics "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter" and "I Hear You Knockin'" might contradict that statement, too.
While growing up outside of Baton Rouge, Leslie Johnson was influenced by Jimmy Reed and Little Walter. But his entree into playing professionally arrived quite by accident: while riding on a bus sometime in the mid-'50s, he met guitarist Lightnin' Slim, who was searching fruitlessly for an AWOL harpist. The two's styles meshed seamlessly, and Lester became Slim's harpist of choice.
In 1956, Lester stepped out front at Miller's Crowley, Louisiana studios for the first time. During an extended stint at Excello that stretched into 1965, he waxed such gems as "Sugar Coated Love," "If You Think I've Lost You," and "The Same Thing Could Happen to You." Lester proved invaluable as an imaginative sideman for Miller, utilizing everything from cardboard boxes and claves to whacking on newspapers in order to locate the correct percussive sound for the producer's output.
Lester gave up playing for almost two decades (and didn't particularly miss it, either), settling in Pontiac MI in 1975. But Fred Reif (Lester's manager, booking agent, and rub board player) convinced the harpist that a return to action was in order, inaugurating a comeback that included a nice 1988 album for Alligator, Harp & Soul. His swamp blues sound remained as atmospheric (and, dare one say, energetic) as ever on subsequent releases including 1998's All Over You and 2001's Blues Stop Knockin', featuring Jimmie Vaughan.
Lazy Lester (born Leslie Johnson, June 20, 1933, Torras, Louisiana, United States) is an American blues musician, who sings, and plays the harmonica and guitar. His career spans the 1950s to the 2010s.
Best known for regional hits recorded with Ernie Young's Nashville, Tennessee based Excello label, Lester also contributed to songs recorded by Excello label-mates including Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, and Katie Webster. His songs have been covered by (among others) The Kinks, Freddy Fender, Dwight Yoakam, Dave Edmunds, Raful Neal, Anson Funderburgh, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. In the comeback stage of his career (since the late 1980s) he has recorded new albums backed by Mike Buck, Sue Foley, Gene Taylor, Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson, and Jimmie Vaughan.
In the mid-1950s, Lester was on the margins of the Louisiana blues scene. According to Rolling Stone (February 23, 2006), Buddy Guy, before moving to Chicago, had played in Louisiana "with some of the old masters: Lightnin' Hopkins, Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo." When Guy left for Chicago, in 1957, Lester replaced him, on guitar, in a local band — even though Lester, at the time, did not own such a musical instrument.
Lester's career took off when he found a seat next to Lightnin' Slim on a bus transporting Slim to an Excello recording session. At the studio, the scheduled harmonica player did not appear. Slim and Lester spent the afternoon unsuccessfully trying to find him, when Lester volunteered that he could play the harmonica. Lester's work on that first Lightnin' Slim session led the producer, Jay Miller to record Lester solo — and also to use Lester as a multi-instrumentalist on percussion, guitar, bass, and harmonica on sessions headlined by other Miller produced artists, including, notably, Slim Harpo. "Percussion" on these sessions went beyond the traditional drum kit, and including a rolled-up newspaper on a cardboard box.
Miller dubbed Lester "Lazy" because of his laconic, laid-back style.
More than his vocal delivery, Lester is best remembered for songs that were later covered by a wide range of rock, country, blues, and Tex-Mex stars, chiefly: "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter", "I Hear You Knockin'" and "Sugar Coated Love".
Lester stated he wrote these songs; but almost all are officially credited to Miller, or Lester and Miller. Lester also stated he received few royalties, which embittered him and made him sceptical of the music industry. By the late 1960s, Lester had given up on the music industry, working manual labor and pursuing his favorite hobby — fishing. Lester moved to Pontiac, Michigan, living with Slim Harpo's sister.
In 1971, Fred Rei and Lester accompanied Slim. Years later found Reif and Lester both in Michigan, from where Reif orchestrated a comeback. Lester recorded and played around the United States and abroad, backed by blues bands including, frequently, Loaded Dice.
Lester's recordings in this period are on blues labels, Allgator and Telarc, alongside releases in Europe.
If disenchanted, Lester retained not only his harmonica, guitar, and vocal talents (the songwriting that had been muse to The Kinks and Dwight Yoakam having dried up long before). In September 2002, a Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded by the Boston Blues Society.
In 2003 Martin Scorsese included Lester in his blues tribute concert at Radio City Music Hall, a record of which was released as the film and album Lightning in a Bottle. The group photograph inside the album depicted Lester grinning, dead-center among peers and musical progeny including B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Buddy Guy, Levon Helm, Chuck D, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, John Fogerty, and Aerosmith.
Lester currently lives in Paradise, California with his partner.