Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Detroit mourns passing of Johnnie Bassett

It is with a heavy heart that I report that Detroit bluesman Johnnie Bassett passed away from complications of liver cancer on Aug. 4, 2012. He was 76 years old.

Bassett, known as Detroit's "Gentleman of the Blues," was a silky smooth singer-guitarist, who got his start in the mid-1950s with Joe Weaver and the Blue Notes (the studio band for Fortune Records), backing up musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, and Ruth Brown.

Johnnie Bassett performs on June 23, 2012 at the WCSX Blues Brews & BBQ Fest. Bassett passed away Aug. 4 from complications of liver cancer. (Blues Photos by Don McGhee)
"Johnnie Bassett was a wonderful musician and a good friend," said Gretchen Valade,  owner of Mack Avenue Records, parent company of Sly Dog Records, in a press release. "Whenever I walked into a room where he was playing, he would start singing 'Georgia,' my all-time favorite. He was sympathetic and loyal to his friends, and had a good sense of humor. He was a heck of a blues singer who wasn't appreciated as much as he should have been, and didn't have as many gigs as he should have had, but he never complained about anything. Johnnie was one in a million, and I will miss him terribly."

Bassett, a Florida native who moved with his family to Detroit in 1944,  recently celebrated  the release of  "I Can Make That Happen” on Sly Dog. It was one of his best albums ever.

“He hasn’t lost anything,” keyboardist Chris Codish said at the time of the June release. Codish first started jamming with Bassett 20 years ago. “He’s gotten better and better and is still at the top of his game," Codish added. "It’s exciting to play music with him, even after all this time. He’s a master of the blues.
“It’s his presence and the way he plays, his phrasing is absolutely amazing."

After a stint in the U.S. Army,  Bassett lived for a time in Seattle, where he hosted a Sunday night jam session often attended by a young guitarist named Jimmy James, who later became well-known as Jimi Hendrix.

Bassett returned to the Motor City in the late 1960s, but didn't headline his own band until the early 1990s, when he formed the Blues Insurgents. Bassett made up for lost time with a series of outstanding recordings.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Blues Society in 1994.
Bassett was one of Detroit's most loved and treasured musicians.  Comments flooded his Facebook page following his passing.
"Our loss is heaven's gain," wrote Blues Society board member Wolfgang Spider. "The jam band up there has a new and wonderful member."
Drummer Todd Glass wrote,"It's hard to imagine this world without Johnnie Bassett in it. Thank you Johnnie for sharing your gift with all of us and for allowing me to share the stage with you here and there. So many great nights I was able to spend playing, talking and just plain having fun with you."
"Johnnie, smooth as silk," wrote guitarist Cliff McClanahan. "The best Detroit had to offer to the World."
In an interview with this writer less only two months ago, Bassett talked about continuing to perform.

“Especially when you walk in a club and everybody is glad to see you coming in. What can you say? You have to love it," Bassett said ... "I’d rather be doing this than anything else I know. It gives you so much joy just to see other people enjoying what you’re doing.  That’s what keeps me doing it.”

Bassett is survived by his wife Deborah, daughter Benita Litt, and his wife's children, Lynn Tolbert, Courtney Campbell and Kenneth Pringle. 

Funeral arrangements include a public visitation from 3-8 p.m. Friday at Pye Funeral Home, 17600 Plymouth Road, in Detroit. Floral tributes will be accepted at the funeral home, and condolence notes can be sent via pyefuneralhome.com. The funeral service will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at New St. Mark Church Baptist Church, 24331 Eight Mile, in Detroit. It will be preceded by a family hour at 10 a.m.

For more information on Bassett's music, click  www.johnniebassett.netwww.johnniebassett.net.

To send info to JB Blues, please email Joe.Ballor@dailytribune.com

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