THE ICON: Smokey Johnson
THE LEGACY: Smokey Johnson wasn’t the strutting frontman. He wasn’t the showoff guitarist. He was the drummer, and so — like most drummers — he took his place at the back of the stage. But he made his presence known, and how, with a powerful drumming style that played a key role in the evolution of the New Orleans sound and which helped bring the rhythms of the city to a broader stage. Whether he was performing as a drummer for Fats Domino, co-writing and recording the Carnival standard “It Ain’t My Fault” with Wardell Quezergue, or traveling to Detroit to show the folks at Motown how it’s really done, he beat the drum for New Orleans music the best way he knew how: by literally beating his drums, and in a way few others could.
THE ARTIST: Jeremy Paten, WhereYart.net
THE INSPIRATION: “This ain’t no brag: (Motown founder Berry) Gordy used to use two drummers on a recording session because them cats didn’t play no bass drum. But after he heard the New Orleans stuff I was laying down, he didn’t need but one. I’d be sitting behind the drums messin’ around and they’d be recording that stuff.” — Smokey Johnson, in a 2004 interview with Offbeat magazine