#963: Nobody Gets Around Johnny Twist

August 6th, 2018

I paid him the money, so I feel OK going ahead with the story.

A few months back I knocked on the door of a storefront on Cottage Grove, but not any storefront. THAT storefront. The one with the handpainted signs offering blues CDs, afrocentric books, King Tut and a once in a lifetime chance to meet the man himself, the one the only, the legend — Johnny Twist.

The door opened before I got my hand re-lowered. The man was there, asking for five dollars.

Johnny Twist was wearing a leather hat, leather vest and I’m pretty sure a leather sports coat the day I ventured into his shop. He had a massive shark tooth hanging from his neck and he talked like slick magic as he squired me in the shop.

The sign calls it the Mississippi Chicago Blues Historical Museum, I think. It’s hard to tell on the hand-painted plywood where the eye is expected to go next. But whichever direction those five words run, they’re inaccurate. It’s a museum dedicated to one man: Johnny Twist.

Johnny Twist is a bluesman, a living legend he tells me once I pay my $5 admission. His store-museum is a temple of blues, but a temple of himself. There are old letters from blues legends, sent to Johnny Twist. There are photos of Johnny Twist, article clippings. There are his records, his old posters, his history.

Johnny Twist jumps from story to story repeating one phrase: “Nobody gets around Johnny Twist.”

He says that when he talks about the record companies wanting to dupe him, the European success he knows he has because of an old magazine article from Germany. He talks about page counts of each article and one by one shows me as if I don’t believe that he’s been in ink. He tells me stories about Koko Taylor, Ike Turner and a man in Maxwell Street Market when it was the blues haven of Jewtown who had a trained chicken act. They were all good — especially the chicken — but nobody gets around Johnny Twist.

He alludes to dark forces with long reaches for scuttling his career, making him forgotten instead of in his rightful place in the blues pantheon. But it’s OK because nobody gets around Johnny Twist.

His daughter comes in while Johnny Twist and I talk. She is lovely and kind. I like her for her sweetness and summery smile, the same way I like her father for his madness. I ask him for an interview — a real one, sitting down and talking and getting my questions answered.

He doesn’t directly ask for money, just tells me about the GoFundMe page he’s using to try to keep the museum afloat, maybe add to it, you feel me, you feel me?

I say sure. It’s a breach of journalistic ethics to pay for interviews, but I don’t get around Johnny Twist either. I want this shop to live. I want him to have the money.

We fist bump — Johnny Twist won’t shake my hand — and I make a pledge. Father and daughter say they’ll check for the donation. I hop in my rental car, head home and promptly don’t make the donation I promised.

Weeks passed before I get around to it. Then they never got in touch. I never tried to reach out again. My main guess is they gave up on me and then didn’t notice when I finally made good on my promise. But I did pay the money so am getting the story.

His GoFundMe has a $100,000 goal. He’s $450 in. It’s been two months and my $20 is still the last donation listed. Maybe they wanted $30.

The museum on Cottage Grove in Woodlawn is a madman’s temple to himself where he lurks two feet behind the door. It’s packed past gills with memorabilia. No photos allowed, not that I would have wanted to take them. Photos would give you the illusion that you’d been there, act as another weight on the side of the scale that says “Stay home and watch TV.” It would give you too much of a taste of the place and I want to leave you hungry.

I want you to get off your ass and drive down to Woodlawn, park your own car by 6455 S. Cottage Grove Ave. and foist your own five bucks into the waiting hand of living legend — and you can take the man’s word that he is one — Johnny Twist. Nobody gets around him.

Listen to Johnny Twist’s “The Get It”

And “Why I Play the Blues”

“Sure is Fun”

The Germans do love him

South Side Weekly did a beautiful profile of him

Meet fellow Woodlawn resident Downtown Brown

Read about another true original

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You are currently reading #963: Nobody Gets Around Johnny Twist by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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