One of the last performers of the original Texas country blues style, guitarist Alfred Johnson plied his distinctive approach to the blues over the course of seven decades. Born on August 10, 1913, in Cedar Creek, Texas, Johnson worked alongside his parents, Frank and Pearl Lee Johnson, as a sharecropper. He grew up in a large family, and his first exposure to music came from his father, a fiddler, and an uncle, Will Johnson, a guitarist. He began performing around the age of twelve about the same time his fondness for smokeless tobacco earned him his nickname. He drew his repertoire from blues, country, religious music, and cowboy songs, often creating his own variations on traditional tunes. As a teenager he worked as a cowboy and enjoyed attending area country balls to hear players that included Mance Lipscomb. Johnson was greatly influenced by the Texas songster and resembled him musically, not only in his breadth of material but also in his rhythmic guitar style, characterized by a pronounced bass line picked with the thumb.
He served in the United States Army during World War II, and after his discharge in 1945 he settled in Austin where he worked in construction, at service stations, and finally as a piano mover. Although he played informally during the 1950s and 1960s, he did not record until the 1980s. These tracks were released in 1994 as Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and he began to perform in earnest at such venues as Antone’s and the Continental Club in Austin. His 1999 recording, Black Cowboy Blues and Church Songs, captured a selection of material from this period. Alfred Johnson died on January 17, 2000, in Austin after a long illness. During his life he had married three times and had thirteen children.