The Original Guitar Hero and the Power of Music
The Original Guitar Hero and the Power of Music
The true original guitar hero Lonnie Johnson influenced everybody and led to later guitar heroes & their huge impact on music & society
The true original guitar hero Lonnie Johnson influenced everybody and led to later guitar heroes & their huge impact on music & society Read more
About this project
Dean Alger's acclaimed book, THE ORIGINAL GUITAR HERO and THE POWER OF MUSIC – The Legendary Lonnie Johnson, Music and Civil Rights, is a prime foundation for the film. The 5 star book review in the famous music magazine MOJO, by its former editor:
“This ambitious book sets out to place Lonnie Johnson as a cross-cultural visionary in the veins of Charlie Christian or Jimi Hendrix - and succeeds brilliantly. With many anecdotes both poignant and inspiring, this excellent biography does full justice to an underappreciated musical titan.”
Lawrence Cohn, former Vice President of Columbia/Epic Records, Grammy-winning record producer, and editor of probably the best book ever on the blues, Nothing But The Blues, said:
“This book is great! Besides the superb review and assessment of Lonnie Johnson’s music and life, the perspectives on development of artistry on the guitar and broader societal impacts make this a profoundly meaningful book. Lonnie Johnson’s importance for 20th century music is monumental; this book is long over due in spelling out why.”
There is video of Lonnie performing "Another Night to Cry" on YouTube during a 1963 blues tour, that had over 519,000 views at last check. Many people know about his significance. There are also many notable musicians performing renditions of Lonnie's songs, and demonstrations of his guitar technique, on YouTube.
Here's what the great B.B. King said in the historic interview with Alger for this project. Listen to the passionate meaning in B.B.'s voice:
This also illustrates the rich set of materials already gathered for this film.
Two significant figures saw a short version of the film we made for demonstration and praised the project. Boyd raved about the book, as well.
JOE BOYD (noted London-based record producer for Pink Floyd, Taj Mahal, Fairport Convention, REM and others; made the famous documentary, Jimi Hendrix; was head of music for Warner Brothers Pictures (Deliverance, A Clockwork Orange, etc.)) said:
"Many guitarists have been memorialized with documentaries, but none is more deserving of such than Lonnie Johnson. Lonnie's life story and his musical journey are a truly American story that weaves the connections among multiple musical genres and their leading practitioners. The story goes from New Orleans to St Louis to Chicago to New York to Europe to Canada, while the influences and collaborations reach from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington to Robert Johnson to B.B. King to Bob Dylan to Charlie Christian to Django Reinhardt to Eric Clapton.
It's a remarkable tale and there are enough footage, photographs, recordings and eye-witness testimonials to make a great film. The time is now and no one has the knowledge and the passion to get it done but Dr. Dean Alger. I urge you to support this project."
JACK WILKINS major jazz guitarist who’s played with jazz greats from Chet Baker to Sarah Vaughan, accompanied Tony Bennett, teaches guitar at the Manhattan School of Music; said in an email after watching a demo of the documentary, in which he performs.
To: "Dr. D (Dean Alger)"
Subject: Re: short version of documentary film "The Original Guitar Hero..."
Wow, that's fantastic!
Very proud to be a part of this.
You really nailed the feeling of Lonnie and his legacy.
I’m a-buzz after watching that video. It’s really something special.
The film will review key elements in Lonnie’s life, starting in that Original Music City, New Orleans. That’s where he was born and first developed his great and unique music that was a blend of blues, jazz and more.
To enhance the feel and visual setting for key areas in the story, we will do location shooting in New Orleans and St. Louis, where Lonnie’s second stage and start of his historic recording career occurred. Alger already has several significant people in each area who will assist there.
With full funding, we can do more.
But, Lonnie Johnson is not widely known today.
Noted music writer Barry Mazor said: “As both guitarist and vocalist, Lonnie Johnson was massively influential in blues, jazz and American pop, yet, he’s been undervalued and undersung.”
Other significant musicians and writers have said the same thing.
(Dylan image above taken from the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. 1963. Public Domain.)
The Lifetime Grammy petition for 2017 can be found here: www.originalguitarherofilm.com.
The petition was resubmitted for 2018 by member of The Recording Academy, Bruce Iglauer, Founder and President of Alligator Records.
This film is a call to action on the Lonnie Johnson part of the story, and is an effort to hold the Grammy folks and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame accountable for doing the right thing.
Dr. D already has 3 video interviews, one with British blues legend (and mentor of Eric Clapton) John Mayall, the others with key people who had unique involvement with and understanding of Lonnie. And he has about 20 additional interviews on audio recordings. Besides the historic interview with B.B. King, those include audio-recorded interviews with blues greats Buddy Guy and Robert Lockwood, Jr., a few musicians who performed with Lonnie, interviews with others close to Lonnie, major music writers, heads of significant music institutions, etc. There is rich material in those recorded interviews!
As the film segment here illustrates, there are a few filmed Lonnie performances available from the official filming of the American Folk Blues Festival Tour of 1963. Further, via the large network Alger developed, contacts say there is privately recorded performance film of Lonnie in more than one place in Europe (1963) that hasn’t been seen by the general public.
We intend to do additional on camera interviews with a few of the great musicians who signed the Lifetime Grammy petition, like Buddy Guy (most important, given his greatness and his lavish praise for Lonnie J), Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Robbie Robertson, and one or two more. We’ll also do video interviews with guitar virtuoso and guitar authority Stefan Grossman, and Lawrence Cohn, (both of whom have been supportive of this project and have already agreed to interviews), and a few others.
This story is not simply an old musician biography. There are broader themes and perspectives in this film:
With the sublime expressive capacities on guitar shown well in the film, it’s also about how the magic and power of playing by great guitarists made the guitar the dominant instrument in popular music and a cultural icon.
Many such greats, like the four shown here, were influenced by Lonnie Johnson. And the guitar became a powerful instrument for expressing everything from personal feelings to big issues in our society. On one of those issues, the film, in a powerful, moving manner, will show the impact of great guitarists and other musicians on progress made in race relations.
This is something the U.S. badly needs a reminder of today!
Steven C. Tracy, musician and professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, said of Alger’s book: “Fascinatingly readable, the book goes even further in that it places Johnson in the broadest context of American culture of the 20th century, seeing him rightly not only as a trailblazer and pervasive influence on a variety of musical genres—jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, country, rock, and folk—but as an important symbol of race relations and racial understanding in America.”
And that's why a key theme in the film is the THE POWER OF MUSIC.
Kickstarter says: “Tell people why you’re passionate about the project and committed to making it happen.” The best independent statement on this is in the support letter from the highly respected record and film producer-director, Joe Boyd of London (lead director of the famous documentary, Jimi Hendrix):
“It's a remarkable tale and there are enough footage, photographs, recordings and eye-witness testimonials to make a great film. The time is now and no one has the knowledge and the passion to get it done but Dr. Dean Alger.”
Also, Dr. Alger’s work in other professional realms has dealt with social justice (and the democratic process). The story of Lonnie Johnson is about a major cultural injustice that a long list of great musicians, top music writers and more say is overdue for rectifying. And the Music and Civil Rights theme is one the film team is very concerned about in today’s America. We hope this film will provide inspiration to many, including ideas on how music and major musicians can help ease racial tensions in the U.S.
Background Note: Dean Alger, in over a decade of effort on the book and now the film, has done a prodigious amount of work and has drained his resources getting this important project, act of cultural justice, and major untold story to the public.
Strategic Note: If good funding is obtained, given the “tremendous research” (DOWN BEAT magazine book review) already done for this project, the large amount of material already in hand and more identified, including all the interviews done, etc.: We plan to finish doing the film, including post-production, etc., by late March 2018, with release in April, if we can arrange it. There are two reasons for that timing:
- CRUCIAL TIMING: First, that would be shortly after Lonnie should finally get the Lifetime Grammy in mid-February, 2018. NOTE: A short version of the film, 31 minutes, that we are working on will be submitted to a few film festivals in 2017. The video section from it shown above contains a powerful statement on why the Lifetime Grammy should be given, with ample strong evidence in support. Showing the short film in film festivals will make it a public issue and put pressure on the Grammy Committee to do what they should do. And if that’s successful: With the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award given to Lonnie while about 24 million people watch on prime time TV, this will give the film—and the Lonnie J cause in specific—a big further boost.
- Second, April is established as “International Guitar Month.” This film is an ultimate assessment of The Guitar’s preeminent role in popular music and its broader impact, so release in April is so appropriate!
Key aspects of timetable: Production is in process and, with adequate funding, the full film should be completed by February 1, 2018 —depending on funding and when it’s available.
And that will enable an announcement to the media the day after the 2018 Grammys that a major documentary on the Lifetime Grammy recipient will be released soon. And this will surely help get better distribution.
Post-production should take less time than many such films because most of the interviews and other materials are done & gathered, and we are doing much of the editing as we go along. Thus, many such film projects do all the shooting, etc., then put the whole thing together in post production, but that’s far less the case here. So, we expect post-production to last from February 1, 2018 to the end of March, possibly sooner, with Alger & Job working full time on it, again, depending on when funding is obtained.
We are applying to other sources to complete the total needed funding, listed here:
- Modest pay for writer-director-producer & videographer-editor for 9 months; and for part-time consulting director & other part-time staff for shorter periods = $49,200
- Copyright costs = $19,000
- Legal counsel for copyright & contracts = $2,800
- Transfer of video tape and audio tape to digital, equipment, post-production costs = $12,500
- Travel for director & videographer-soundman for Interviews, location shooting, and film festival showings = $12,000
- Website development = $800
- Kickstarte & fiscal sponsor fees, Kickstarter rewards cost = $5,100
- Publicity & materials, other = $2,600
Grand Total = $104,000
Music has been a passion for Dr. D’s entire life. He’s a guitarist, singer and songwriter. His song in tribute to Lonnie Johnson, “The Legendary Lonnie J,” has gotten great responses; it amounts to the Saga of the great Lonnie J and his wide influence. Part of it will appropriately play over the credits at the end of the film. For this book-then- film project over the past decade, Dr. D has had extensive communications with a long list of top music writers, musicians, Grammy-winning record producers, heads of significant music institutions, and more. He owns, has watched and has studied a substantial number of documentary films, especially on music subjects, as well as extensive discussions with staff in the Independent Filmmaker Project, Minnesota, and other documentary filmmakers.
More on Dr. D is in the Kickstarter "About Us" section.
Lawrence Cohn, serving as Consulting Producer for the film, has a law degree, is former Vice President of Columbia/Epic Records and was the originator of and producer for the “Roots & Blues” series. He won a Grammy as producer for the famous box set, Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings, and was nominated for a Grammy for other recordings. Later he was head of Playboy Records and Music. He organized and edited the major book, Nothing But The Blues, which won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award and the BMI-Ralph Gleason Award. He was recently given the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, City College of New York (now CUNY).
Reilly Tillman, Deputy Director of the Independent Filmmaker Project-MN (www.ifpmn.org ), is Consulting Director & Producer for the film. His production company is Really Reilly Pictures. He previously produced and directed the feature documentary film, Madison on Tour, which aired on Twin Cities Public Television. Currently he’s also working on a documentary on Laurel Massé, co-founder of the internationally acclaimed, award-winning vocal group, Manhattan Transfer.
Aaron Job, another key film team member, is an emerging videographer-editor. He has a degree in Journalism & Mass Communications from the University of Minnesota, with special emphasis on video production. He’s done work for the Minnesota Daily (U of M) and Minnesota Public Radio.
He just completed video projects for several non-profits, the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and an environmental organization focused on improving watersheds in Minnesota.
His film organization is called “No Signal Cinema," and some of his other video work can be found here.
Joe Price, Narrator, is Director of the B.F.A. Actor Training Program for the famous Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, and the University of Minnesota Theater Department; and he has extensive experience in voice-over work.
Olivia Schiffman, Social Media Assistant and Researcher, is an undergrad at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, currently working towards degrees in English, History, and Musical Arts.
She works for the Schiffelly Puppets Performance company as well as the City of Hugo’s Historical Commission doing research, and preserving the historical integrity of Hugo, MN.
For the film, she is managing our social media sites and distributing content on them as we progress.
Risks and challenges
We've carefully highlighted some of the challenges we face in our "About This Project" section.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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