Johnson was born in Lambert, Mississippi in 1940. His father, Ellis Johnson, played fiddle, banjo and guitar for a local group that specialized in country and blues music and that inspired the younger Johnson to pick up the guitar. Self-taught, Johnson played well enough by the time he was 13 to sit in and perform with his father's group. Unlike a lot of other Delta musicians, who migrated to Chicago, Memphis, and other big cities, Jack remained in Mississippi, plying his trade in the local juke joints and at house parties. Johnson became known as "The Oil Man" early on in his career as his day job was driving a truck for Shell Oil.
It was also about this time that personality clashes and the constant performances led the Jelly Roll Kings to split up. Michael Frank, president of the Earwig label, convinced the trio to reform and record an album. Released in 1979, "Rockin' The Juke Joint Down" was, by all accounts, a revelation--winning praise and critical acclaim around the world. The album featured the first ever recordings of Johnson as vocalist and led to gigs for the trio in places as diverse as Chicago, The Poconos, and Holland. It also garnered a nomination for a WC Handy Award (the Oscars of the Blues world).
After the Kings split up in 1987, Earwig's Michael Frank approached Johnson about recording a solo album. "The Oil Man" debuted to largely positive reviews as Jack demonstrated his ability to deliver fresh and powerful performances of well worn classics, such as Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" and Little Junior Parker's "Mystery Train". On his second album, though, Jack demonstrated that he was an original to be reckoned with. "Daddy When Is Momma Coming Home" featured a much stronger funk and soul influence and Johnson's original compositions dealt with topical matters like domestic violence and AIDS. Johnson turned out powerful album after powerful album straight through his final release, 2008's "Katrina".
To the best of my knowledge, Johnson's contribution to Christmas music consists solely of a 45 released by Rooster Blues Records in 1990. The joyous "Jingle Bell Boogie" can be found on the Rhino collection "Blue Yule". We've featured the flip, "Rudolph Got Drunk Last Night" (which seems to be unavailable on CD) at the top of this piece.