Drummer and percussionist Joseph “Smokey” Johnson died this afternoon after a long illness. He was 78.
Johnson was born in New Orleans on November 14, 1936 and is one of the “cornerstone” drummers and percussionists who created New Orleans’ indigenous jazz, funk, R&B and soul music, along with people like James Black and Earl Palmer.
Johnson was raised in Treme and originally played trombone before he began playing drums at age 12.
Johnson was loved and respected by all local musicians, and worked with New Orleans music luminaries Wardell Quezergue, Dave Bartholomew, Earl King and hundreds more. Johnson and Quezergue wrote the Mardi Gras standard “It Ain’t My Fault,” which as been covered by many musical groups, especially local brass bands, as it was one of the first tunes to incorporate second line syncopation into pop music.
Johnson’s music and riffs were sampled by numerous rappers and he was involved in several lawsuits with record labels over the use of his music.
Smokey Johnson suffered a stroke in 1993 and stopped playing drums. He was forced to leave New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, but returned to New Orleans to live in the Musicians’ Village in the Upper Ninth Ward. He was a beloved elder musician and an original creator of the New Orleans sound. Johnson was the recipient of OffBeat’s Best of The Beat “Sideman” Award in 2004.
He is survived by his wife and children, many friends and admirers.
Services for Joseph “Smokey” Johnson will be held Friday October 16, from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Wake and musical tribute will be at Charbonnet Funeral Home 1615 St Philip St, with viewing Saturday 8 a.m. – 9 a.m. Johnson’s funeral is a 9 a.m. at Asia Baptist Church, 1400 Sere St, and burial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery immediately following the funeral service.