From the September/October 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Blair Jackson
The “John” in the title of the fine acoustic guitar-and-harmonica duo record Digging in John’s Backyard is Piedmont blues guitarist-singer John Jackson (1924–2002), one of many country blues performers rediscovered during the early 1960s folk boom. An excellent fingerstyle player and singer, Jackson emulated Charley Patton, Blind Blake, Reverend Gary Davis, and others, and both guitarist Frank Fotusky and harmonica ace Grant Dermody cite him as a friend and influence. However, this specific project has more in common with the duo of guitarist John Cephas (1930–2009; he was mentored by Jackson, and Dermody knew him) and harmonicist Phil Wiggins (b. 1954), whose heyday was the ’80s and ’90s.
The unadorned, unamplified performances sound like a couple of (really talented) pals casually sitting on the front porch pickin’, blowin’, and singin’ a baker’s dozen of their favorite songs in a nice variety of country blues styles. They have terrific chemistry and unassailable chops. Songs range from well-worn numbers like “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” “Police Dog Blues,” “Alberta,” and “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” to wonderful, more obscure tunes such as “Peach Tree Blues” (Yank Rachell), “Papa’s on the Housetop” (Leroy Carr), “Boats Up River” (the lone John Jackson-penned song), and “Shake It and Break It” (Charley Patton).
Fotusky’s great-sounding guitars on the album are a 1995 Gibson Custom Shop J-35 spec’d off the 1937 J-35 on the cover of Gibson’s Fabulous Flattops book, and a grand concert-size 2007 Fraulini Angelina 12-string built by Todd Cambio, owner of Fraulini Guitars.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.