Lil Johnson made use of one thing that always sells in music, everytime: sex. She eventually toned down her lyrics somewhat, since record company censorship was beginning to plague her as well as shifting public taste. Nonetheless, she recorded quite a few sides between the late '20s, when she first appeared in the recording studios, and 1937, when she performed on her last known songs. Like many pianists and singers from this period, her recordings fell into a state of copyright limbo in which just about anyone capable of sequencing a series of tracks was able to release her songs on anthologies relating to the blues and boogie-woogie piano. There was a particular interest in Johnson's case among producers of collections such as Copulatin' Blues, a title that apparently seems appealing enough to be used for several different collections by unrelated labels. Song titles such as "You'll Never Miss Your Jelly Till Your Jelly Roller Is Gone" reveal how appropriate her material is to such collections, although she never really made up her mind which direction she wanted to go into with the food-equals-sex metaphors; at one point switching from jelly rolls to peanuts -- "Get 'Em From the Peanut Man," the listener is advised -- and eventually settling on something that is actually healthy, cabbage. "Anybody Want to Buy My Cabbage?" Johnson asks on this side, one of several of her records in which the solid feel of the rhythm and the peskiness of the blues improvisations make up for relatively uninspired lyrics.
by Eugene Chadbourne