Blues guitarist Johnnie Bassett, a staple of the thriving Detroit blues scene for decades, passed away on Saturday night, August 4, 2012 after a brief battle with cancer. Bassett was 76 years old.
Bassett was born in 1935 in Marianna, Florida, relocating to Detroit, Michigan with his family as a child in 1944. He initially had no plans on being a musician, looking instead to comedy as a vocation, but he picked up a guitar at the age of 18 and began playing the blues music he heard on the radio. In a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press, Bassett said "originally I had no aspirations of being a musician...being a musician - it got me. I didn't get it."
During the late 1950s and through the '80s, Bassett was known primarily as a sideman. He played with the Bluenotes as a session musician for Detroit's Fortune Records, and later backed the Miracles during a short stint as a staff musician for Chess Records. Through his lengthy career, Bassett played alongside such artists as John Lee Hooker, Lowell Fulson, Little Willie John, Tina Turner, and others.
Bassett emerged as a singer and bandleader during the 1990s after a chance meeting with drummer R.J. Spangler at the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival in 1991. The two men formed the Blues Insurgents, and the guitarist became known as Detroit's "Gentleman of the Blues," respected worldwide for his nuanced guitar style and ability to play blues, jazz, soul, and R&B styles. Bassett's 1998 album with the Blues Insurgents, Cadillac Blues, received several W.C. Handy award nominations, including "Traditional Blues Album of the Year" and a nod to Bassett as "Best Blues Instrumentalist - Guitar."
Bassett was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Detroit Blues Society in 1994, and through the years he racked up a number of Detroit Music Awards. The guitarist recorded infrequently, but released his fifth album, I Can Make That Happen, in early 2012. Johnnie Bassett will be missed by his many fans in both the Motor City and beyond, and our thoughts go out to his family and friends.
Photo courtesy Sly Dog Records