‘Somebody’s got to go’ – the path from from blues to rap


Lonnie Johnson, one of the first guitar masters.
Lonnie Johnson, one of the first guitar masters.

Written by John Kessler

Lonnie Johnson was one of the first American guitar masters, with a style that bridged jazz and blues, as well as country styles. Though often labeled as a “blues” player, he was versatile and accomplished enough to be a guest artist with Louis Armstong’s Hot Five in 1927, and with Duke Ellington in 1928.

Among his many contributions, he is considered the first to play single-string guitar solos and was a major influence on jazz guitar pioneers Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. He recorded “Somebody’s Got To Go” in 1941.

Not many films exist of Lonnie Johnson performing, but here is a wonderful segment of a similar song “Too Late to Cry”:


In the 40’s and 50’s it was common for many artists to release the same song within months or weeks of each other, so there are many versions of “Somebody’s Got To Go” from the early to mid 40’s. Joe Turner, one of the most powerful and best known singers of the day also released it in 1941. Turner’s career saw music pivot from jazz and blues into jump and rock and roll. He was able to change with the times, with a career that lasted from the 1920’s thru the 1970’s. Here is a mid-50’s film clip of Big Joe Turner (pre Bill Haley) pounding out “Shake, Rattle and Roll”:


Tab Benoit combines blues, rock and Cajun music to make his own style of “swampy” blues. He is also a champion for coastal and wetland restoration along the Gulf Coast. Though a prolific writer, he always includes some well picked cover songs on his recordings, and released a funky, high-energy take of “Somebody’s Got To Go” in 2007.

The song’s reach continues to extend into rap and hip-hop. The group Cappadonna released the song in 2008, using as its focal point a sample of the Joe Turner recording from 1941.

Here are the complete versions of “Somebody’s Got To Go”:

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