VICKSBURG FACTS: Vicksburg-born blues mandolin artist is the “Man”

Published 8:00 am Friday, July 28, 2023

By Vera Ann Fedell | The Vicksburg Post

Did you know Vicksburg is the birthplace of famous blues mandolin artist, Johnny “Man” Young?

Young was born in Vicksburg in 1918. At a young age, he and his family moved a couple of miles north of Rolling Fork to the home of The Mississippi Sheiks, according to All About Blues Music. The Mississippi Sheiks was a popular blues band that included several band members playing the mandolin and potentially influenced Young to play the instrument. His mother was also a musician and taught him how to play the harmonica while Young’s uncle, Anthony Williams, taught him how to play the guitar and helped him with the mandolin. 

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“I grew up in Vicksburg, so I heard all them guys. Even Charlie Patton. Of course, he didn’t come to see me, I was too young. He come to see other people, but I was there anyway,” Young said in a recorded interview on the Mandozine website. “The mandolin? I was playing that back in Vicksburg, but I did hear Charlie McCoy play, too. He was a mandolin player living over in Jackson that made some records about that time.”

Eventually, Young taught himself how to play the mandolin.

“I just taught myself,” he said. “See, I had been playing it in cross-tuning; just picked out tunes on it that way. Then my uncle came by and he tuned it properly for me. Really though, I taught myself to play. I used to go to sleep and his playing would be running through my head, how he played things; phrases. And I would work it out myself.”

He then began to play at various gigs for local dances and parties. In 1940, Young followed his cousin and moved to Chicago to further his music career. After World War II, Young began performing at the Plantation Club at 31st and Giles along with blues artist Muddy Waters, a Rolling Fork native, and John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, according to Mandozine.

Young was known to have a good voice and could play very well on the guitar; however, it was his “Blues Mandolin” that everyone noticed and eventually led to his nickname, “Man.”

Soon, Young began gaining popularity on the Maxwell Street scene in Chicago, where he played with various artists like John Brim, Snooky Prior, Floyd and Moody Jones, Big Walter Horton and John Lee Granderson. Young got his first recording contract with Ora Nelle Records, where he recorded “Money Talkin’ Blues” and “Worried Man Blues” with his cousin. Additionally, he recorded “Let Me Ride Your Mule” and “My Baby Walked Out” with Snooky Prior. 

Young also formed The Chicago Blues Band with Otis Spann and Slim Willis and together they recorded many songs, including a song about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy called “Can’t Keep from Cryin,” which appeared on a Testament Records album.

Throughout Young’s career, he continued to play many sessions for various artists and their albums. He also had the opportunity to tour in Europe for The American Blues Festival, which was during the release of his album “Can’t Keep My Foot from Jumpin’.”

This album would be his final, as Young died of a heart attack at the age of 56, according to All About Blues Music.