Sample Guitar Red’s Early Synthy Soul off the ‘Hard Times’ LP

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Sample Guitar Red’s Early Synthy Soul off the ‘Hard Times’ LP

On 'Hard Times,' Chicago-based R&B artist Guitar Red recorded the guitar, vocals, and drum sections at the same time. His synth-fueled tunes were sampled by 9th Wonder, Kenny Beats, Paul’s Boutique producers The Dust Brothers, and People Under The Stairs.


Danny Veekens


February 22, 2022

1976’s Hard Times LP was the first and only solo record by Paul Johnson a.k.a. Guitar Red. The recording of a full-length album took over a decade and a half following two blues-centric 7” releases at the dawn of the sixties. The album rides the fine lines between soul, disco, funk, and rhythm-and-blues, with a lo-fidelity touch of synthesizers and a drum machine. He was a true multi-instrumentalist: "He plays three parts on the guitar at the same time while he controls the drums with his feet and sings," as mentioned on the back sleeve of Hard Times"He is simply amazing! To see him perform is truly a revelation."

"By the time the folks at the tiny Mod-Art imprint tracked him down, he hadn’t recorded in a few years and was doing the dinner lounge circuit," writes Oliver "O-Dub" Wang of Soul Sides. Up till then, Guitar Red had worked with big names like Chuck BerryFats DominoSammy Davis Jr., and Lou Rawls.

Guitar Red’s sound fits in with the revolution in the mid-70s when a generation of musicians started to experiment with incorporating synthesizers and electronics into soul music, as captured on a compilation like 2012’s Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984 by Chocolate Industries, which featured Guitar Red’s “Disco From A Space Show”—later sampled for music by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Beck.

guitar red hard times paul johnson

Mod-Art Records

Hard Times was released on Mod-Art, a label founded by soul singer, songwriter, producer, and fellow Chicagoan Chuck Sibit. The record label was active from 1972 to 1977, and released music by the likes of James Mann, Casey Jones, and soul group The Class-Set.


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