By: Liz Fabian
For: The Macon Telegraph
A local R&B legend who gave Otis Redding Sr. his first break, guitarist Johnny Jenkins, died Sunday night at Coliseum Medical Centers after suffering a recent stroke.
Jenkins, 67, always claimed to have “taught Otis how to sing,” said Georgia Beckles of her friend.
“He was a very gentle, kind person,” Beckles said. “He had that smile and he’d say, ‘Give me a hug.’ They called him blessed, and he had it on the tag on his car.”
Jenkins, who recorded on the Capricorn label, was born in 1939 in east Macon’s rural Swift Creek area. At age 9, he made himself a guitar out of a cigar box and learned to play it upside down and left-handed for folks at the local gas station, he later told interviewers.
By the late 1950s Jenkins was performing at the Douglass Theatre’s Teen-age Party and playing in R&B bands around the Southeast. He soon started his own band, Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers.
In 1960, when he first saw a young singer by the name of Otis Redding performing, he invited Redding to sing and occasionally chauffeur for the Pinetoppers.
During his time with Jenkins, Redding got his first chance to record. Jenkins later played guitar on Redding’s first recording, “These Arms of Mine.” In the mid-1960s while Jenkins and his band were playing around Macon, a young guitarist in town from Seattle to visit relatives saw Jenkins. That man, Jimi Hendrix, was impressed by his unorthodox technique and stage presence, and he incorporated them into his own act. And in 1969 when Hendrix became an international superstar, he invited Jenkins to New York to play with him.
That same year, Jenkins hooked up with future music mogul Phil Walden and recorded his first solo album, “Ton Ton Macoute!” That album featured another young guitarist, Duane Allman, and members of his new group, the Allman Brothers Band.
Jenkins, frustrated with the music business, dropped out for most of the next 25 years, spending time with his family.
In 1996, Walden convinced him to go into the studio again to record a comeback album,
“Blessed Blues” in 1996.
On Dec. 7, 2000, Jenkins debuted his new CD, “All in Good Time,” at the Grand Opera House.
Jones Brothers Mortuary on Millerfield Road has charge of arrangements.