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Lazy Lester (born Leslie Johnson, June 20, 1933, Torras, Louisiana) is a swamp blues harmonica player, whose career spans the 1950s to the 2000s.
Best known for regional hits recorded with Ernie Young's Nashville, Tennessee based Excello label, Lester also contributed as a sideman 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.
Excello Records career
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 record 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, county, blues, and even 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 skeptical 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 the sister of Slim Harpo.
Lester's recordings in this period are on blues record labels such as Alligator 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 Yoakum 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 depicts 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.