William (Willie) Johnson

(Peerie Willie)

1920 - 2007

Influential guitar accompanist, notable for his unique style and music. Born on the island of Yell (Shetland), 'Peerie' (or 'Little') Willie Johnson was a sickly child and used his time indoors to develop his musical skills. In 1936, he joined Tom Anderson's Islesburgh Dance Band, playing double bass and occasionally the guitar. Johnson served in the RAF during World War II working as part of the ground crew servicing flying-boats at Sullom Voe. Greatly influenced by jazz, he used this time to learn from American musicians who were serving in Shetland.

Johnson created a new and distinctive style of accompaniment for traditional Shetland music. With Tom Anderson he performed at the Edinburgh Festival in the 1970s and toured internationally. He was a great influence on the next generation of traditional musicians, including Aly Bain (b.1945) and Phil Cunningham (b.1960).

He died in Lerwick.

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