In tbe late 50s, Thomas, an established Hillbilly performer, got word of a new recording company, Ram records, that had just opened for business in Shreveport, 70 miles from his home in Monroe, Louisiana. Johnson recalls that first release for Ram: “I had been to Mira Smith’s studio to record and she asked me what name I wanted on the rcord. I didn’t want Thomas Johnson. As I was driving back to Monroe tbat night I thought about one of my idols, Hank Williams, and he had made records as ‘Luke The Drifter’. I was sort of a rambling man in those days, so when I got to Minden, it came to me, I got out of the car and phoned Mira and said “Call me the Lonesome Drifter”.
“Eager Boy” and “Teardrop Valley” were released in 1958 on K records, a subsidiary of Ram, named after Mira’s sister. On “Eager Boy” Thomas’ friend Tom Bonnet, who had accompanied him to the studio, plays the lead guitar. The success of the flip, “Teardrop Valley”, featuring Shreveport musician George Mercer on lead guitar, secured the Lonesome Drifter his wish to appear on the Louisiana Hayride.
Johnson was born on 6 December 1931 on a cotton farm in Bastrop,Louisiana. As a youth he worked as a water boy for the cotton pickers on the pantation and recalls hearing his first blues music while watching on old black man playing a slack string guitar outside a Bastrop general store. Other influences included Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Monroe,and bluegrass music was the foundation of his style.
Johnson was not a professional musician and worked in the steel business as an erector and welder and this took him as far afield as Chicago and Kansas City. Today Johnson lives quietly in Monroe where he owns a small recording studio in which he records artists in the gospel music field.