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Macon-born blues guitarist Jenkins to join Ga. music hall

Johnny Jenkins, the Macon-born blues guitarist who died six years ago after a career that saw him help launch Otis Redding’s rise to fame and whose style influenced the likes of Jimi Hendrix, will be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame this fall.

Jenkins, who died in 2006 at age 67, is among six inductees at this year’s ceremony, which is set for Oct. 14 in Atlanta.

Others being inducted into the music hall include Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington, Sugarland, 38 Special, Alex Hodges and Riley Biederer.

Thursday, Jenkins’ sister, Sandra Jenkins-Bryant, who learned of her brother’s honor last week, said, “I really hate the fact that he is not here to receive it himself.”

Jenkins formed the group Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, a band Redding later sang with and that led to his first record, “These Arms of Mine,” on which Jenkins played guitar.

Jenkins’ brother Terry said he still recalls the first real guitar Johnny Jenkins owned, a gift from their older sister Gladys’ boyfriend, when Johnny was 14 or 15.

“He played so good,” Terry Jenkins, 63, said. “He quit school and started picking guitar.”

Noted keyboardist Chuck Leavell, who'd known the guitar great since they played a show together in the early 1970s, accompanied Jenkins on his last record, "Blessed Blues."

"I went to Johnny's studio in Decatur (Ala.) to record. It was like going back in time to play with him again so many years later. He was much older, but he still had the magic and it was a joy and honor to work with him again," Leavell said. "He was and will always be one of the real greats."

Johnny Edward Jenkins grew up in east Macon’s Swift Creek community, south of U.S. 80 along Chestney Road. He used to watch older men play guitar outside a whiskey house, his brother said, learning to play, in part, “just looking at those guys’ hands move.”

Jenkins-Bryant, 59, used to sense “the spirit and the love” her brother had for playing when he performed.

“You could tell he put everything he had into it,” she said. “He loved playing that guitar.”

As a child, Jenkins-Bryant sometimes watched his jam session rehearsals.

“It was a blessing to be present just to see him during a practice,” she said.

Georgia Beckles, a childhood friend of the musician’s who was close to him in his later years, thinks he would be honored to be recognized by the music hall.

“He was not a person who wanted to be in that limelight. He would appreciate it ... but as far as making a big deal over it, not Johnny. No, sir,” Beckles, 72, said.

“As a matter of fact, whenever he went out he’d say, ‘You know, I just want to be me.’ But every time he’d go out, somebody would see him. We’d drive to the store and even if he stayed in the car, somebody’d notice him and say, ‘Johnny Jenkins!’ And he’d say to me, ‘What’d I tell you?’ ... Wherever, people would recognize him. ... He was laid-back. He just wanted to be Johnny.”

The Associated Press and Telegraph archives contributed to this report.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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