Celebrating The Life Of Johnnie Bassett: Legendary Detroit Bluesman

Detroit was home and Detroit was special to Johnnie Bassett, the “gentleman of the blues”, who died at St. John Hospital in Grosse Pointe Saturday night, where he’d been hospitalized since July.  He was 76.

Bassett was born in Florida and moved to Detroit at the age of 9.  Playing blues guitar, his musical influences were Albert King, B.B. King and T-Bone Walker.  For most of his career, Johnnie was a session musician playing with the likes of  Tina Turner, Dinah Washington and John Lee Hooker.  In his later years, Bassett had his own band and since has released 6 albums.  His 1998 album “Cadillac Blues” was nominated for five W C Handy Awards and in 1994, he was given a lifetime achievement award by The Detroit Blues Society.  

After a 6 year stint in the army, Johnnie spent some time in Seattle Washington where a young Jimi Hendrix came to learn his style of tuning his guitar.  “He used to come sit in,” Bassett said. “Guitar Shorty was headlining, then we’d do the blues session, then (Hendrix would) do little funky stuff.”

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him several times over the past few years playing with my friend Chris Codish and members of  The Brothers Groove in various Detroit blues clubs.  Codish said of Bassett, “He was the jazz/blues gentleman, he was a blues man plus, but he knew how to play jazz and standards and country and Motown and all that stuff. He may not have gotten the popular acclaim, but the musicians knew he was inspirational. I had so many nights playing music with him that were transcendent experiences.”

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