Funeral services and a musical tribute for veteran New Orleans drummer Joseph “Smokey” Johnson, who died Oct. 6 at age 78, were announced Monday.
“Smokey” Johnson, a lifelong resident of New Orleans, was a childhood student of the legendary Joseph S. Clark High School music teacher Yvonne Busch. He went on to provide the beat for “Sugar Boy” Crawford’s Cha-Paka Shaweez, Dave Bartholomew, Eddie Bo and most famously, Fats Domino’s band, where he occupied the drum stool for 28 years.
Johnson is heard on a laundry list of classic New Orleans R&B tracks, including Earl King’s “Trick Bag” and his own enduring composition “It Ain’t My Fault,” which has become both a local brass band standard and, more recently, a popular source of samples for rappers.
In the early 1960s, Johnson famously accompanied a group of New Orleans musicians, including King, Kidd Jordan, Wardell Quezergue, Johnny Adams and others on a trip to the Motown studios in Detroit.
Music industry lore has long held that though only Earl King was signed as a result of the jaunt, label founder Berry Gordy kept Johnson in Detroit for months to study his singular technique on the drums.
Smokey Johnson was born on Nov. 14, 1936, to the late Joseph Johnson Sr. and Rinda (Pattie) Williams Johnson. He is survived by his wife, Gwendolyn P. Johnson, and children, Sandra J. Jones, Deborah (Barry) Fisher, Baton Rouge; Joy Wooten, Bridget (Tommie) Wiley; Juan (Resa) White and Gizelle (Ryan) Johnson-Banks, as well as stepchildren Darren and Stephen (Cathy) Perkins and Yolanda White.
He is also survived by seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Johnson will be honored Tuesday evening, Oct. 13 as part of the neighborhood’s Night Out Against Crime celebration, at the Donald Harrison Sr. Mardi Gras Indian Museum at 1930 Independence St.
The event takes place from 5-7 p.m., with free books for adult and children, red beans and rice and a barbecue. A drum tribute to Johnson is scheduled for 5:15-5:30.
A viewing and musical tribute Johnson is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 16 at the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home (1615 St. Philip St.) from 6-9 p.m. Funeral services will take place at the Asia Baptist Church (1400 Sere St.) at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, with visitation beginning at 8 a.m.