Jonesville History: The Union County Flash

[After building Pineapple Hill in Jonesville, South Carolina, I began looking around in Jonesville History. Today’s post is about a local legend called The Union County Flash]

Henry Johnson was born in Union County, SC near the towns of Union and Jonesville on December 8, 1908. He was inspired to play guitar by a cousin by the name of Thelman Johnson as well as local man by the name of JT Briggs. He also was inspired by recordings on 78 RPM by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake & Blind Boy Fuller. Johnson soaked up a lot of styles in his youth by local string bands as well as gospel artists that he heard in live performances (One artist was Blind Gussie Nesbitt). Around 1933 he also took up playing the piano hearing local artists on the instrument such as “Come By” Shelton & Tommy Foster, and he went on to perform gospel and “the Devil’s Music” on radio broadcasts in the 1930s. All of the various influences made him a multi-instrumentalist playing finger-picking as well as slide guitar styles, piano and he also picked up harmonica along the way. He regularly played a resonator style guitar, at first a Gibson, but he later came to favor the National brand. He also played slide on a “very cheap” electric guitar, and unlike many more well known bluesmen, kept fairly strictly to standard guitar tuning. A buried treasure, he wasn’t heard until early white blues enthusiasts chanced upon him in the early 1970’s. Johnson recorded a full-length album for Trix in 1973, and a few live recordings by him were later released on a Flyright Records LP compilation. One of many instances where an artist was discovered and captured on record just in the nick of time, Johnson started working the club and festival circuit and even did some appearances with “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson, one of his early supporters and frequent playing partners, until he passed away in Union in February of 1974. His album “Henry Johnson – Union County Flash” (Trix, 1973) was sought after by many, often in vain, until Muse rereleased it on CD in 1995 (ASIN B000001YG8). Most of the historical information available comes from Pete Lowry (1973), contributor to “Living Blues”, and a personal friend of Johnson’s. Most was written for the liner notes of “Henry Johnson – Union County Flash”. Lowry performed the recording of the album, in Union, South Carolina, November 10, and December 9 and 11, 1972.

Source: Member notes on web site.

Pink Anderson, for whom Pink Floyd is named, was born and raised nearby. He commonly toured with Jonesville’s Peg Leg Jackson.

Check out the Spartanburg Music Trail

— Tim Bryant
Author of BLue Rubber Pool