Southern soul coming to the swamp stage

Johnny Rawls brings his award-winning smooth southern soul to the Black Swamp Arts Festival.
“I been in music all my life,” Rawls said. “I didn’t even know how to sing until I was 21. If you were
standing behind O.V. Wright, would you think about singing? I was his band leader until he died. He was
one of the greatest blues singers that ever lived.”
Wright was known for his smooth southern soul sound.
“I would sing three or four songs, and open up for him,” Rawls said. “I played keyboard, saxophone and
guitar for O.V. Wright. It was a once in a lifetime experience. I was 16.”
His career stretches back to the 1960s, when he was given the chance to back stars of that time. As a
teenager, he was backing up soul and blues stars like Z. Z. Hill and Joe Tex. He went on to become the
bandleader for O.V. Wright, a job he held until Wright’s passing in 1980.
“My high school mentor, he let me play in his dance band when I was in ninth grade,” Rawls said.
“I met all the southern stars. All the Stax artists. Down in Gulfport. I learned everything from him, how
to book shows, write songs. He taught me everything I know. I learned everything from Carl Gates. I was
still on the circuit,” Rawls said. It was then that he also learned how to produce.
Rawls produced more than 30 albums for other labels before starting to write and record for Third Street
Cigar Records, from Waterville.
Rawls’ album “I’m Still Around” was named as the Best Southern Soul Blues album Aug. 5.
This is the second major trophy for “I’m Still Around,” which also won Soul Blues Album Of The Year at
the Blues Music Awards in May.
“With Johnny earlier this year winning a BMA (The Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Award), and now with him
winning The Living Blues award, it’s a testament to the quality of ‘I’m Still Around.’ It’s a great
honor for a veteran artist, and we’re proud of Johnny and our Third Street team,” said Third Street
President John Henry.
Rawls is a native of Columbia, Mississippi. Henry believes songs like “What You Do To Me,” “Dancing
Tonight,” and the title track reflect the warm soul found in the rich environs that stretch from Memphis
through the Delta and down to New Orleans.
In addition to his own albums on the charts, Rawls’ music for other artists is rising as well. The
current album from Toledo’s The Good, the Bad and the Blues is making its way up the blues charts and
more than half the songs were written by Rawls.
In the studio, he works as much as a conductor as a writer and producer.
“I grew up around it. I’m from Columbia, Mississippi. When you walk down the street and there’s a guy
playing guitar, I was surrounded by music. My grandfather played guitar, but not professionally,” Rawls
said.
Rawls was also named Most Outstanding Blues Singer in the 2014 Living Blues list of honorees.
Rawls has recorded nearly 20 albums as a solo artist or in collaboration with others. He is now
completing his second album for Third Street Cigar Records, which will be released later this year. He
tours relentlessly, across the United States and in Europe.