Johnson Lee, named after Robert Johnson, the famed blues guitarist, lives a life of duality. During the day he is the mainstay of Joe’s Record Paradise, founded by his father 45 years ago and running it himself since 2008. On Thursday evenings he delivers a masterful lesson of rock history using two turntables and the historic rock location of DIVE as his classroom. He is the teacher and those sipping on beers are his sometimes unwitting pupils. During a typical Thursday, he will pull “deep tracks” from established artists to the obscure, but the sound always feels familiar, like a recognizable friend.
Joe’s Record Paradise opened in 1974 and Johnson Lee started working between record aisles at the age of 10, spending weekends and after school hours acclimating himself to all things vinyl. He is truly in control of his domain, knowing where a particular artist can be found among the 100,000 records and knowing which track on an obscure record stands out.
So many albums, so many treasures.
When visiting the basement record vault of Joe’s Record Paradise it’s easy to get excited. Rows and rows of slightly used and typically nostalgic albums with covers that range from simplistic to more elaborate to even works of art.
I gravitated towards Bob Dylan and his fourth studio album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. Released on August 8, 1964, it was considered by some to be a shift from the socially conscious style of his previous work with the cover showing an intense yet confident Dylan, leg up, on one of the streets he called home. Always the writer, he was signed to a book deal by MacMillan in 1963 and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.
On a lighter note, my personal reference to this album is Johnny Depp from the movie Blow, defending himself in front of the judge, ” it ain’t me, babe, huh? No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe. It ain’t me you’re looking for, babe” which closely follows the lyrics of the last song on the album “It Ain’t Me Babe.”
Back in the rock section there is a divider labeled simply “Eagles” and behind it, so many fond memories. Girlfriends, best friends, ex-friends, drinking on railroad tracks, making out and breaking up. It was the music that made our lives complete, providing the soundtrack to every good and bad moment. It would also become the cue to unlocking those memories years later when a particular song would play, the mind would suddenly open up to a different time. Looking at the Eagles, I was looking at the tracks of my life. It’s impossible to walk into Joe’s Record Paradise and not leave with just a few albums under your arm, they are giant audio postcards from the past just waiting to deliver good vibes.
He has almost every record imaginable, what does Johnson like?
Johnson Lee gravitates towards “early Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart” and “also Blow by Blow which is a funky rock fusion by Beck.” He likes the Cure and “always the bluesy classic rock.” But on Thursday nights at DIVE, Johnson immerses the crowd in deep tracks of classic rock. Songs that resonate with guitar riffs and bass chords and the sense that somewhere they were contrived under the influence of some potentially mind altering drugs. No matter, they are seamless, fluid and take us back to a place and time where we drove the open roads, drank full bottles of alcohol with our friends and remember them as the best days of our lives.
Experience Johnson Lee every Thursday at DIVE beginning at 6pm.
Rock History Plays Here.