Johnny Burgin grew up in the South and went to University of Chicago with the intention of becoming a writer. A different path unfolded when a fellow DJ at the college radio station took him out to a West Side ghetto club to hear the blues singer Tail Dragger. It was a conversion moment where the blues came to life for Johnny and he fell headfirst into the vibrant Chicago blues scene. Choosing the blues clubs over the library, Johnny eagerly absorbed the lessons from the blues masters who practiced their craft nightly. Through persistence and practice he gained a spot in Tail Dragger’s band, and started doing gigs in town and on the road with traditional blues veterans like Jimmie Lee Robinson, Sam Lay, and Pinetop Perkins. What at first he’d only dared to dream about coalesced into three concrete goals: to play in Europe, record his own CD, and to book his own gigs every weekend. A Monday night residency at The Smoke Daddy in Wicker Park along with featured vocalist Jimmy Burns turned out to the key: before long, Johnny’s band packed the club every Monday with a younger, hip crowd. The residency’s success led directly to a record deal with Delmark, steady local club work, and his first of many European tours– he’d done it!
The shangri-la of being “King of Division Street” eventually ran its course, and in the early aughts, Johnny dropped off the scene entirely to raise a daughter. But Johnny couldn’t keep away from music for too long; his 2009 comeback was noted by The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Blues Guide, as well as the international blues press. His first show, on a frigid January night in a club that’d been an old stoming ground, was packed with his old fans. An awful silence fell before he hit the first note– did he still have it?– but as noted blues producer Dick Shurman wrote, “Johnny’s skills, passion and committment were undiminished.” Brick by brick, Johnny rebuilt his career first in Chicago, then all over the Midwest and Europe, and gradually out to the West Coast. His move to the Bay Area in 2016 was artistically rejuvenating, leading to new fans, new collaborations, and recordings such as the Cali/Chicago blues mashup Neoprene Fedora, the Howlin’ Wolf tribute Howlin’ at Greaseland (nominated for a BMA for Best Traditional Blues Recording) and the Johnny Burgin Live LP, which featured Charlie Musselwhite and was nominated for a Blues Blast Best Live Recording Award for 2019. The move honed his road warrior skills: since 2016, he’s performed nearly 250 shows a year in Europe, Japan and coast to coast in the US, earning the tag line The Worldwide West Side Guitar Man.
Now with ten CDs as a leader to his credit and dozens more as a sideman, Johnny’s developed from a young guitar slinger and local blues hero into a matured bluesman, fully fledged singer and the a confident and engaging bandleader. In recent years, he has been teaching both in person and online at the Chicago Blues Network and has developed a loyal following on Youtube for his weekly looks at the blues guitar greats. Johnny’s recordings have evolved from being very Chicago-centric, to a fusion of West Coast and Chicago styles, and finally to a more inclusive, international approach: his latest CD, No Border Blues Japan, is the first American compilation of the underground Japanese blues scene. The success of this collaboration led Johnny and his partner, producer Stephanie Tice, to create and host the podcast No Border Blues, which focuses on the international blues scene.