Charlton Johnson

Lead Guitarist

Although he finished the University Of Memphis in 1980 with a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering, Charlton Johnson has been active in the Memphis, Tennessee music scene since high school. But, in order to play guitar in night clubs at the ripe old age of 14, he had to first lie about his age to both fellow band members and the night club owners.

The strong Memphis music environment included a classic mixture of styles. The Memphis jazz scene has produced and nurtured the likes of Phineas Newborn Sr. and Jr., George Coleman, Harold Mabern, Frank Strozier, Booker Little, and Charles Lloyd. Memphis blues spans from W.C. Handy, Furry Lewis, to B.B. King. Rhythm and Blues emanated from Stax recording artists Booker T. and the MGs, Issac Hayes, Sam and Dave as well as Hi recording artists Al Green and O.V. Wright. These early influences eventually led Charlton to performances on historic Beale St. with artists Albert King, James Cotton, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Ann Peebles , Syl Johnson, Phineas Newborn Jr., Calvin Newborn, Herman Green, Donald Brown and James Williams.

Charlton also gained his first experiences as a jazz educator at his alma mater teaching both jazz guitar, and jazz combo performance classes. As the guitarist in the University of Memphis faculty jazz ensemble he performed with jazz notables Slide Hampton, Jimmie Heath, Tom Browne, and others.

Also while teaching at the University of Memphis, Charlton was granted the opportunity to join the Count Basie Orchestra and play in legendary guitarist Freddie Green's rhythm guitar chair for six years. During that six year period Charlton traveled across the United States, Canada, South America, Russia, Thailand, Japan, and most countries in Europe.

In addition to the intensive travel, the orchestra also worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, Max Roach, Lionel Hampton, James Moody, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, George Benson, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Dianne Schuur, Tito Puente, Jon Hendricks, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, The Manhattan Transfer, Ernestine Anderson, Toots Thielmans, Rosemary Clooney and recorded 5 albums, one of which won a grammy award (George Benson's Big Boss Band.) Charlton was also the first guitarist/member of the Basie orchestra to be a featured soloist since Eddie Durham in the 1940s.

Charlton sat in the producer's seat for the recording Finally Yours by former Basie vocalist and international recording artist Carmen Bradford. This recording made it to Billboard magazine's prestigious Jazz top ten list. Along with a nice dose of guitar playing the recording also features Frank Foster, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Darryl Jones and others. Johnson also penned the tune Destiny for the recording.


  • Four to the Bar Rhythm Guitar Book. Hal Leonard Publishing
  • Swing and Big Band Guitar Book. Hal Leonard Publishing

Other Artist Bios

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Angela Adkisson

James Jackson
Bass Guitarist

Charlton Johnson
Lead Guitarist

Ricky Adkisson

Lafayette Adair

Mike Krepper


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