Way Down That Lonesome Road
by Mark Miller
Toronto was Lonnie Johnson’s last stop in a career of stops, at least the eighth city in which he lived for any length of time. The influential African-American singer and guitarist, a formative figure in the history of blues and jazz dating back to the 1920s, travelled north for a brief appearance at the New Gate of Cleve in May 1965 and returned for a longer engagement at the Penny Farthing in June. Over the next five years — the last five years of his life — he rarely left the city again.
Way Down that Lonesome Road: Lonnie Johnson in Toronto, 1965-1970, the tenth book from noted Canadian jazz historian Mark Miller, reclaims Johnson from the realm of legend and brings him back to life through the recollections of the friends, fans and fellow musicians he met along Yorkville Avenue, up and down Yonge Street and, in time, across a city caught up in the remarkable musical and cultural ferment of the late 1960s.
In part a biographical study and in part a social history, Way Down That Lonesome Road follows Johnson from the generous welcome that he received from Toronto’s critics on his arrival and the successes and failures that followed, to the automobile accident that left him hospitalized for a year and the final, fleeting appearances of a comeback cut short by his death.
Johnson’s years in Toronto were the happiest of times and the hardest, a Dickensian sort of paradox, albeit in a tale of just one city. This is that tale; here is that city.
"Mark Miller is probably the finest author of jazz books that this country has ever produced." - Jim Galloway, Wholenote
"My friend Mark Miller is a dauntless researcher and writer, and his 10 jazz books are accurate and valuable additions to anyone's library." - Ted O'Reilly, organissimo