Back in 2003, I connected with Jef Lee Johnson and invited him to come up to our radio show "Upper Room with Joe Kelley and Gi Dussault" on WVOF in Fairfield, Connecticut. He graciously agreed and even sent in advance a great promo poster that we displayed prominently on our studio glass. Jef Lee arrived at the studios with bassist Chico Huff and drummer Ted Thomas Jr. And guess what? Jef Lee Johnson brought pizza for everyone: his band and myself. I was impressed.
We needed to cut the live music fast as Ted Thomas had to travel back to tape shows with Emeril Lagasse where he was the house band drummer. Prior to starting the radio show, I asked Jef Lee Johnson if they wanted to do a sound check. He just said, "No, let's get it started." And started they did!! Thirty seconds into the first song. I could feel the hair stand up on my arms and the goosebumps poppin'. I really felt blessed that I was in the midst of live musical greatness and the Jef Lee Johnson trio was on my radio show.
The four show flew by fast and we had a blast. Jef Lee and Chico regaling us on tales on the road and recording. Jef had been through so much in the music business: high profile tours, top-notch studio sessions, solo records. Some funny moments: D'Angelo telling Jef that he was practicing playing guitar (love Brother D, but Jef Lee had nothing to worry about on the six string) and Jef talking about a session that he played on for a singer who had a huge hit and couldn't sing a lick. I still don't know who that was. :-))
The next day, Gi Dussault and I went to see the Jef Lee Johnson trio in Manhattan at the Knitting Factory. Small room that was so intimate. It was a real treat to be in on the action with immense music talent. Two days later, I received a long voice message from Jef Lee Johnson thanking me profusely for having us on the show and also that he was thinking of retiring from the music business. What???!!! I called him immediately and tried to cheer him up. I told him the Knitting Factory show was amazing and that I hoped they would put the footage officially out (it was recorded). Jef Lee Johnson was most impressed by a former Jimi Hendrix girlfriend photographer who was in attendance.
Jef Lee Johnson was gracious enough to come back to our radio studios to play live with Chico Huff and Tim Huston in 2006. But the most fun was going out to eat after the radio show and laughing about gig stories. Wasn't there a drummer who fell asleep at his drum kit during a gig? Heheehe
The past few years, I kept abreast on Jef Lee by all the studio sessions he played on and the music we featured on our show: George Duke, Jim Ridl, Esperanza Spaulding. We reconnected a little over a year ago via email and Jef said that he was on tour with Esperanza Spaulding. I invited him back to the studio and he asked what I had in mind. Sadly, we never had a third chapter to the in-house radio performance. But we have Jef Lee Johnson's musical legacy to carry on and the recordings of the radio shows to share. We do plan in the next couple weeks to have a huge radio tribute to Jef Lee with guests and reairing of his interviews and performances on our show.
Love You Brother Jef Lee Johnson, Rest In Peace.