Missed an earlier news item? Visit the news archive.

Guitar player passes on

Peerie Willie Johnson, the Shetland’s guitar man passed away on Tuesday 22nd May. His name may be permanently prefixed with the Shetland dialect word for “small”, in reference to his diminutive stature, but as a guitarist. Willie Johnson has long been revered as an international giant.

Willie began to develop his unique style of the guitar accompaniment by incorporating elements from jazz, swing and ragtime with the “vamping” style of backing the fiddle on piano that was common in his home island.

Born in Yell, one of Shetland’s northernmost islands, a bout of illness as a child, left him idle and miserable, to relieve the situation his mother bought him a ukele and he never looked back.

By the 1980’s Willie was a regular on Aly Bain’s TV series, Down Home. In 2005, his lifetime’s achievements were honoured in Shetland with the launch of the annual Peerie Willie Guitar Festival. A bit of character, it is reported that in a Lounge bar in Lerwick, where he was celebrating his birthday party a few years back, he cast his eyes over the young women playing in the session, he then reportedly took a drag from his cigarette, a hit from his inhaler and declared, “What I wouldn’t give to be seventy again…”

Permalink - Posted: June 27, 2007 at 1:00 pm