By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
B.B. King and Robert Lockwood were radio pitchmen for Pepticon (a patent medicine) and Mother's Best Flour respectively, so it's not without blues precedent for Johnny Dyer to use his talent in commercials. He's the harp-honker on West Coast TV ads for Budweiser, AT&T, and Nabisco crackers.
Born in Mississippi in 1938, he's a noted proponent of the ripsaw postwar harmonica sound exemplified by Little Walter. He found his first harp--nestled like a little Moses--in the grass on Stovall's Plantation, where Muddy Waters was raised. After a few years of playing in country juke joints, Dyer decided to take a stab at urban climes, but unlike most Mississippi bluesmen, who went to Chicago, Dyer went to L.A. in 1958. He played in a two-harp band with the influential George Smith and with his own group, the Blue Notes. But in the '60s, he says, Motown "crushed" blues, so he put down the harp and took up truck driving, navigating an 18-wheeler up and down California.
It wasn't till the '80s that he was tag-teamed by Shakey Jake (a bluesman and gambler of sundry enterprises) and Rod Piazza, who convinced him to get back into music. Dyer played dates at the Safari Club (owned by Jake), cut 45s for Big Time (owned by Jake), and in '83 did an LP for the label Murray Brothers (not owned by Jake). In 1989 came two Black Top recordings (Listen Up and Shake It) with guitarist Rick Holstrom, with whom Dyer toured. In 1995, Blind Pig reissued the Murray Brothers LP, titling it Jukin'.
Between playing European bluesfests (Belgium in February, Sweden in May) and doing commercials, Dyer finds time to indulge his lifelong passion of fishing. He eschews the saltwater species you'd associate with California and instead seeks out the same critters he sought down South--bass, catfish, and the delectable crappie. Last December, Dyer played one of bassist-entrepreneur Eddie Stout's Harmonica Rumbles at Antone's in Austin, accompanied on guitar by Hash Brown. The personable harpmaster got on well with Hash, and they determined to perform together again.
Dyer doesn't blow so shrilly he hurts (like Sugar Blue) or so fast it sounds ostentatious (like John Popper), but rather locks down the classic, Chicago style that had primacy in the '50s. Backed by the Hash Brown band, Dyer will be in Dallas for three days, during which time the fish in Southern California are safe.
Johnny Dyer plays the Greenville Grill on Monday, November 6, Blue Cat Blues on November 7, and Daddy Rocks on November 8.