Most stories about the blues involve a train, but in Lazy Lester’s case, it was a bus.
Lester, born Leslie Johnson in 1933, grew up in Scotlandville and spent his teen years playing harmonica with a local group, the Rhythm Rockers, cutting his teeth on gigs with Guitar Gable. But he hungered for the big time. One fateful day in the mid-1950s, he headed to Rayne on the bus and spotted Lightnin’ Slim riding to Crowley to cut a record at Jay Miller’s Studio for Excello Records. Lester skipped his stop and followed Slim to the studio. The scheduled harp player, Wild Bill Phillips, was a no-show, and Lester convinced Miller and Slim he was up to the task. From there he became a mainstay on Miller’s roster.
In 1957, Lazy Lester, a nickname bestowed on him by Miller because of his languid vocal style, saw the first single under his name, “I’m Gonna Leave You Baby/Lester’s Stomp,” released on Excello. He followed that with a string of hits like “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter” and “I Hear You Knockin’,” with his nasal drawl and explosive harmonica skills helping to define the Excello sound.