"Jack Johnson"---Miles Makes a Rock Album

1971's Jack Johnson is Miles Davis making as close to a rock record as he's made.

First, compared to the serpentine complexity of Bitches Brew he stripped down the sound, with Herbie Hancock on Farfisa organ (!), John McLaughlin playing killer wah-wah drenched guitar, Billy Cobham on drums, Michael Henderson on Fender bass and Steve Grossman on saxophone. Plus of course, Miles.

"...dig the guitar and the bass—They are 'Far-in' Davis writes in the annotation that appeared on the original's front jacket. The guitar dominates as never before or since on a Davis album. In fact, listening to this now makes clear that Jeff Beck must have been inspired by this to write "Freeway Jam" on his 1976 album Blow By Blow. If not the similarities of loping rhythm and Herbie's "horn honking" keyboards are incredibly coincidental. You can hum Beck's melody as this plays and it fits in perfectly.

But no matter, this music to accompany a Jack Johnson bio-doc is as powerful as you'd hope a movie about the boxing legend would be.

Though it all came about almost by accident and was cut and pasted together by producer Teo Macero it sounds throughly and organically whole.

One great thing about reissues like this is it gets you to pull out oft played but long ignored records like this one. Along with In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, this record was the soundtrack to my "life in tatters" 1971 living at 1404 Commonwealth Avenue. Playing this record in either issue, brought me right back there. I could tell you the story of picking up three girls from Vancouver at the Mass Pike exit and my two roommates, but you're no doubt not interested.

I have two versions of this: one called A Tribute to Jack Johnson has catalog number KC30455 and features an iconic black and white photo of Miles on the cover with the annotation and film credits also on the cover. The illustration of Johnson in the yellow car is on the back. It's a "demo" copy on the red Columbia label. The second copy (S 30455) simply titled Jack Johnson is a "Radio Station Service" copy with the white sticker on the cover, which is the illustration of Jackson riding in the car. The back cover is the same as Mo-Fi's back cover and features two photos of Johnson and one of Davis that's the original photo used on the cover of the other edition and is the inside gatefold of the Mo-Fi edition, which more closely resembles this second "original". The label is the gray Columbia "Masterworks" label.

The "radio service" is "1A" on both sides, the red label one is "1A" on side one and "1F" on two, so I"m assuming the original is the "non-tribute" version.

I compared this reissue to the 1A original and both have their good qualities but the Mobile Fidelity reissue is more dynamic, has far deeper and more articulate bass and blacker backgrounds. It's somewhat brighter and more open on top too, which will either be good or not depending upon your system.Was great on mine!

Another great Mobile Fidelity Miles Davis reissue. There's not a bad one in the group (so far), many of which are better than the originals.

Music Direct Buy It Now

mtglass's picture

Jeff Beck was familiar with Tommy Bolin also [Bolin opened for JB on the night of his untimely death.] Bolin played on Billy Cobham's "Spectrum" that also laid the foundation for Beck's fusion phase. Bolin's solo work also had a rock/jazz/funk style.

Daniel Emerson's picture

Years ago, I bought a box set 'Best of' Tommy Bolin's recordings. A very versatile player.

fetuso's picture

I've been debating getting a couple of Mofi davis reissues, but the mofi stuff that I've bought has been a mixed bag. Some of it, like the doobie brothers and the cars, are very flat, as in lifeless. I have a couple of Sinatra reissues that sound good, however. Some other reissues I was unhappy with I managed to sell.

AnalogJ's picture

I have heard the MoFi KOB, the only Miles MoFi I have heard, and it leaves me cold. I much prefer the Classic Records mastering.

I agree with you that modern MoFi's masterings can be a mixed bag. Some are terrific while others can be head scratchers. I wonder why the inconsistency.

Michael Fremer's picture
I could see it leaving you "warm" but not "cold"! Bernie Grundman's mid-ninties cut of KOB was from the 3 track original tape. By the time Mo-Fi did it, the tape was considered too fragile for much beyond a single pass done at Battery by Mark Wilder, who prepared DSD, PCM and analog tape mix downs. The Mo-Fi was sourced from that so it's almost twenty years later and a generation (or two) down. It's still very good but definitely different from Classic's....
AnalogJ's picture

And I don't mean Steely Dan.

There is a coolness to the tonal balance, to my ears. I think the Classic sounds more natural.

Martin's picture

Having both of them also, I would say the Classic is a bit "tweaked" somehow, I love it, it's very direct. The MoFi has a more "natural" sound to my ears, but a little more distant.
Both good, but different sounding.
What gets played? Well... both.
The Sony Mono reissue I think is very, very good.
The original mono, to me softer sounding than the Sony.
What gets played? Well... both....

Michael Fremer's picture
The early Mo-Fi's of this generation (as opposed to the '70s and early '90s) began poorly. The Little Feats were poor, and The Cars were blah. The invested a great deal of money to completely rebuild their mastering chain and the results prove it was money well-spent. The Sinatras all were mastered with the updated chain.
mraudioguru's picture

I have every LP the MOFI has released under the Gain 2 mastering system, (actually I have every LP that MOFI has commercially released from the very beginning through all 3 incarnations).

For the most part, I find them to be superb. Sure there are a few stinkers, (just like any label), but overall well done.

Martin's picture

How can you have every LP MoFi has released through all three entities???? That's a LOT of vinyl. And some very expensive vinyl.
I mean, there are a few box sets in there, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Sinatra.... Then just lots of stuff, including some pretty obscure stuff....
I've got quite a lot of MoFi LPs, ranging from the "Wow!!!!" to "What were they thinking??!!"

mraudioguru's picture

...massive record collection to begin with. The MOFI's are just a part of it. I was also in the high-end business for 25 years and was a MOFI dealer from the very beginning. The releases weren't that much money when they were new and at dealer cost.

Rudy's picture

For the original MFSL LPs, wasn't the list price $15? My first one was the John Klemmer "Touch" LP (MFSL-1-006), purchased at a local audio show just after the label launched.

fetuso's picture

I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to write and say that I bought the album and it just arrived this morning. I listened to it this evening and it was just phenomenal. I'm a Miles fan,but I had never heard this album. Thanks for reviewing it and bringing it to my attention. The sound was excellent as well.

Anton D's picture

OK, I am in!

That Music Direct link as part of your review is way too tempting!

I mean that in a good way!

sfojws's picture

This LP has been a staple in my library for over forty years as well. It's been many years, but I do recall seeing the album sold with two covers. I believe that the version with Miles on the front cover, leaning back with his horn, was the Miles Davis album. The version with the depiction of Jack Johnson in the car on the front cover appeared to be marketed as the movie soundtrack. They had the same content, perhaps directed to different audiences?

Joe Harley's picture

Actually, the first version (and cover) was the one with Jack Johnson in the car. After a few months of tepid sales CBS and/or Miles decided to re-release the album with Miles on the cover to make it more obvious that this was indeed a Miles Davis album. (And a damn good one.)
MoFi therefore has used the first edition cover.

sfojws's picture

Good insight. Thanks.

Martin's picture

I bought this reissue shortly after it came out.
For me, this reissue is better sounding than the original in every way that's important to me.
And it's just a great record.

jpvisual's picture

Have you heard this yet? I Would love to read a review on how this sounds. You can't beat the songs on this record. I hope MOFI did a good job. Thanks.

Paul Robertson's picture

Have a ton of Miles vinyl. New of this album, but nothing about it. Now I do, and it sounds right up my alley. It's officially on the hit list. Thanks for the feedback Mike. I love that fusion stuff that was going on. Agreed on the Tommy B comments above. Beck's version of Freeway Jam on the live record with Jan Hammer gives me even bigger goosebumps than the Blow by Blow take. Now can we only imagine if Jimi and Miles ever had gotten together in the studio like they had planned to? That would be seriously ridiculous.

Paul Boudreau's picture

My copy of the original version (S 30455, "Jack Johnson," 1A/1A) is the first Miles LP I ever bought & still one of my favorites.

RubenH's picture


gel's picture

He's unlisted but Sonny Sharrock also plays guitar on the album.

SLS's picture

to this lp. I was intrigued by it's advertisement. I found it to exceed all of my expectations musically and sonically! The tonal balance I found to be quite good, excellent for a recent MOFI re-issue. On my meager system, I'd rate it a 9 easily!