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Influential Rock Guitarist Johnny Jenkins


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Influential Rock Guitarist Johnny Jenkins


Johnny Jenkins

MACON, Georgia -- Johnny Jenkins, a guitarist who worked with Otis Redding in the early 1960s and influenced Jimi Hendrix through his acrobatic playing style, died on Monday, June 26 at Coliseum Medical Centers in Macon, Georgia, after a stroke, according to Jones Brothers Eastlawn Chapel. He was 67.

Johnny E. Jenkins Sr., or Guitar, as he was known locally, was born in rural Bibb County, Georgia, outside Macon, on March 5, 1939. On the radio, he was drawn to hillbilly music and at age 9 built his own guitar from a cigar box and rubber bands. He left school in seventh grade to take care of his ailing mother and by 16 had turned to music full time.

Jenkins became legendary for touring around the South, playing fraternity parties and other venues with his band, The Pinetoppers, when he met up with Otis Redding. "So I went up to him, and I said, 'Do you mind if I play behind you? . . . I can make you sound good,'" Jenkins recalled in the book, "Sweet Soul Music" by Peter Guralnick. "Well, he sounded great with me playing behind him -- and he knowed it."


The Pinetoppers featuring Johnny Jenkins in the foreground

on guitar, Pat T. Cake on drums and Otis Redding on the mike

Jenkins became part of the fledgling Capricorn Records label co-founded by Phil Walden and partner Frank Fenter. "I thought my entire world rotated around Johnny Jenkins' guitar," Walden, who died in April, said in a 1996 interview with The Telegraph in Macon. "I was convinced he could have been the greatest thing in rock 'n' roll."

The Pinetoppers had a regional hit in the early 1960s with an instrumental called "Love Twist." Redding began recording with the famed Stax Records in Memphis after accompanying Jenkins and his band there to record a follow-up, according to an account in Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 by producer-musician Steve Cropper. The singer died in a plane crash in 1967 at age 26.

Paul Hornsby, a musician and producer who worked with Jenkins, said Jenkins was famous regionally as "the left-handed guitar player who was doing all these acrobatics." His stunts included playing his guitar behind his head.


Johnny Jenkins

His style became known indirectly through Hendrix, who saw him perform when visiting his aunt in Macon. Vocalist Arthur Ponder, who sang with Jenkins, recalled Hendrix as a "little guy who would follow us around a lot. Next thing we know, he's Jimi Hendrix." After Capricorn went out of business in the late 1970s, Jenkins faded from the music scene.

In 1996, Walden produced Jenkins' comeback album, "Blessed Blues." Jenkins continued to perform sporadically, including a 2000 show at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. His last two albums, 2001's "Handle with Care" and 2003's "All in Good Time," were produced by Mean Old World Records.

Jenkins was preceded in death by his wife, Janest Durham Jenkins, who died in 2001. He is survived by two sons, Johnny E. Jenkins Jr. and Kelvin Jenkins; two daughters, Stacy Marie Jenkins and Bridget White; two sisters, Gladys Jenkins and Sandra Bryant; a brother, Terry L. Jenkins; and seven grandchildren.

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