Vince Johnson is a guy you might see playing his acoustic blues in a one-man band on the street with a guitar, percussion and racked harmonica. But you also might see him at your school, working to fix computers.

Born in Chicago right after his parents arrived from Hollandale, Miss., Vince grew up in Lawndale in the neighborhood of California and Polk.

After college I started working in computers.  I worked for IBM, Motorola, Zenith and other companies — big and small. But my goal was always to start my own business. I already was working independently when I took a buyout from Xero in 1995 and started V&J Services. I go to schools and other places to fix computers. Sometimes I bring equipment home to work in my shop.

My guitar thing goes back to the early 1970s. Hearing Chuck Berry playing on records, that was my first inspiration. And in our neighborhood, music was everywhere. Coming down Madison Street or Roosevelt as a teenager, we could hear Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters playing at the clubs. Those were the streets where people bought clothes and goods, and went to the picture shows. The band that played on the TV show, “Barn Dance,” came to our school. The whole West and South Side were full of musicians.  

My dad used to buy things on Maxwell Street at the market and I’d go down to watch the musicians play. One day I got up the nerve to ask to sit in with them. I was playing an amplified acoustic guitar.  There was so much competition!  At the Delta Fish Market, there would be a line of 30 to 40 people waiting to play. When you have groups of musicians playing, there’s always a debate about who gets the tip money. 

Playing on the street, I have access to meeting young people. I want to educate them about the blues and it’s too late to wait until they are 21 and can come to clubs. I’d like to see a place where blues men and women can get together with young people and teach those who want to learn our music.

Bonni McKeown  

"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...

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