The Buddy Johnson Story : part two


Starting out the new year, the Johnson crew plays their Northeastern home base, the Savoy Ballroom in New York. "Fool" is another good seller for the band. In February "Mush Mouth" and an Ella vocal on "One More Time" are released on # 70321. The Johnson bands signs on for Alan Freed's "Moondog Coronation Ball" to be held in Newark, New Jersey on May 1. The Ball was a huge success portending of things to come for Freed and the music. Later in the month the Johnson band and the vocal group The Counts play a week at New York's Apollo Theater. In early June "Ain't Cha Got Me Where You Want Me" an up tempo vocal by Ella, and a dramatic ballad by Nolan Lewis "Let's Start All Over Again" are out on # 70377. In June Alan Freed announces a huge R & B show to be held at Ebbets Field home of the Brooklyn Dodgers that will headline Buddy Johnson and his band,but that promotion never comes about. In late July Mercury releases "Any Day Now" with Ella and "A Pretty Girl" on # 70421. Throughout the summer, both recent recordings continue to sell in all areas of the country. In September, Ella Johnson finally agrees to sign on with Mercury Records as a solo performer. She will continue to be part of the Buddy Johnson band, but record on her own also. Her first solo recording is "Well Do It" and "It Used To Hurt Me" on # 70459. In November, the latest Buddy Johnson Mercury record features two vocals by Nolan Lewis - "I Never Had It So Good" and "There's No One Else Like You". Late in the year Alan Freed lines up the bill for his first New York City show since he moved his broadcasts to the city. The January "Rock And Roll Ball" will be held at St. Nicholas Arena in harlem and feature the poll winners from his radio show. Buddy Johnson with Ella and Nolan Lewis are among the big winners that will be on stage. Johnson closes out the year in a big way in New York City with a week at the Apollo, and an extended engagement at the Savoy Ballroom.

The January Alan Freed show at St. Nicholas Arena in New York was a huge success, and Buddy Johnson and his band were well received by the thousands in attendance. That month "Upside Your Head" with Ella, and "Crazy 'Bout A Saxophone" are released on # 70523. Months after its release "Let's Start All Over Again" featuring Nolan Lewis is still a good seller helped along by exposure on Freed's radio show. In April radio disc jockey Tommy Smalls known as "Dr. Jive", holds his first show at Harlem's Rockland Palace headlining the Johnson aggregation, and it is an SRO success. Mercury releases "Alright, Okay, You Win" and "If You Would Only Say You're Sorry" by Ella Johnson on # 70580. In late May, Alan Freed will go to Boston for a big weekend of music starring Buddy Johnson and his band. Others appearing are Bo Diddley, Nappy Brown, The Five Keys, The Moonglows, Little Walter, Dinah Washington, Al Hibbler, and Dakota Staton. In June Johnson will appear at the Apollo in New York with Dr. Jive's "1955 Rhythm & Blues Revue". From there it's on to Washington, D.C. and the Howard Theater with The Nutmegs. "Someday" and "It's About To Break My Heart In Two" by Ella is released on # 70628. In July Mercury # 70656 features "Bittersweet" and Nolan Lewis on "Send Out For A Bottle Of Beer". In late summer the Johnson band will hit the road with a package show that also features The Nutmegs, Four Fellows, Al Savage, Chuck Berry, and others. In September, Nolan Lewis signs as a solo performer with Atlantic Records. Later in the month the Johnson band appears at Chicago's Regal Theater with radio personality Al Benson. Nolan Lewis replacement with the band, Floyd Ryland, makes his first recording "Save Your Love For Me" with "It's Obdacious" with vocal by Buddy and trumpeter Gil Askey. In December, radio d.j. Dr. Jive (Tommy Smalls) takes over ownership of longtime Harlem night spot Small's Paradise (no connection to Tommy Smalls), and Buddy Johnson and his band are there to entertain the crowd at the grand opening.

In January of 1956 Mercury releases # 70775 with "I Don't Want Nobody To Have My Love But You" with Ella on vocal, and the instrumental "Doot Doot Dow". In March of the year Mercury announces that they will move their R & B roster of talent to their new Wing subsidiary label. Included in the move is the Buddy Johnson band. Meanwhile both sides of the new record are getting a lot of airplay and selling well in many areas of the country. The swinging sound of Ella Johnson's side is heard everywhere, and the instrumental side is becoming so familiar that Buddy begins to use the snappy riff as his new theme song. Mercury had moved the record to Wing # 90064, but sales were so strong they reverted the side back to Mercury. Wing Records signs Floyd Ryland as a solo performer, but he will remain with the band. In May the first Buddy Johnson side for Wing is out - "Buddy's Boogie" and "I'll Dearly Love You" on Wing # 90074. In June the Johnson band, Shirley & Lee, and Joe Jones appear at Rocky Mount, North Carolina on the start of a two and a half month tour of one nighters through the South. In July, radio stations in Atlantic City and Philadelphia give "Buddy's Boogie" a number one hit parade status. Late in the month "Bring It Home To Me" by Ella and the Bee-Jays, and "You Got It made" are released on Mercury # 70912. In September Mercury issues # 70965 with two sides by Ella Johnson - "What A Day" and "That's What You Gotta Do". Buddy Johnson and his band has an LP album out that is issued on both Mercury # 20209, and Wing # 12005, consisting of their hit singles for Mercury. The situation over the label policy continues the confusion. In November Ella Johnson does a rare appearance without the band at an all star show in Denver with Bill haley & The Comets, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Chuck Berry, and many others. At year's end "Why Don't 'Cha Stop It" by Ella, and "Kool Kitty" are released on Mercury # 71017.

The road continues for the Buddy Johnson band. Early in the year he starts a new tour of one nighters through the South and ending in Texas. In march "Oh Baby Don't You Know" and "Rock On" are released on Mercury # 71068. In April Buddy Johnson and his band do a week at New York's Loew's State Theater with radio personality "Jocko" Henderson. In July the band sets off on a short tour of the Midwest with an all star show that also features The Clovers, Spaniels, Johnny & Joe, Huey Smith, Roy Hamilton, LaVern Baker, The cardinals, and Little Willie John. In late summer "I've Surrendered" and "Slide's Mambo" featuring Slide Hampton is released on Mercury # 71159. Ella also has a late summer release by Mercury - "No! I Ain't Gonna Let You Go" and "You're The One For Me" on # 71167. Early in the new year "Don't Turn Your Back On Me" and "Don't Shout At Me Daddy" on # 71263 are released by Ella Johnson. In March of 1958 Buddy and Ella meet up with former vocalist Arthur Prysock for a show in Houston, Texas, with radio personality Clifton "King Bee" Smith. That month "Mingling" and "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone" by Ella are released on Mercury # 71262. By this time it became clear that the hitmaking days of the band were over. Rock 'n roll music had become the sound of young America, and teenaged girls were the number one consumer of single records. The more adult blues based sounds of the Buddy Johnson band were no match for the teenagers obsession with Elvis, vocal groups, and the teen idols now coming to the head of the industry. Even so - the band played on. In January of 1959 the "Biggest Show of Stars" signs on the band along with The Platters, Jimmy Clanton, Clyde McPhatter, The Crests, Cadillacs, Bo Diddley, and Duane Eddy. In February the Johnson band leaves Mercury Records after more than six years, and signs with Roulette Records. In September The Dubs join the Johnson band for a number of dates in the Midwest. In March Roulette releases "Take # 1" and "Don't Fail Me Baby" on # 4134. Without radio airplay and sales, it is the end of the line for Buddy Johnson and his band in the recording studio. There were two Mercury sides in 1960 - a repackaging of "I'm Just Your Fool" and "I Don't Want Nobody" both by Ella on # 71723 and "The Last Laugh's On You" and "Good Time Man" on # 71799. There was one record for Old Town - "I'll Keep On Loving You" and "Like You Do" on # 1173 which was released in 1963.

Soon after the turn of the decade of the sixties, Buddy Johnson suffered failing health which curtailed his musical activities. His sister Ella also decided to retire from the music scene and help take care of her brother who had guided her career for twenty years. The big band of Buddy Johnson then passed into history and Buddy passed away in February of 1977. Ella Johnson lived quietly in New York and passed this year (2004) also in February. Gil Askey had an interesting career after his days with Johnson. He became a top arranger and producer for Motown for more than twenty years, working with all the big names on the label and producing the "Lady Sings The Blues" soundtrack album. He later settled in Australia. Many music researchers have found that the Buddy Johnson band had very little impact on White listeners. The band and their vocalists were virtually unknown to mainstream music fans, except for listeners of Moondog Freed back in the day. Luckily for all, there is an ample amount of CDs available for people to find out what they missed all those years ago, and for younger ones to listen to R & B history.

These are most of the CDs by Buddy Johnson that are out there - but beware of duplication from one label to another.

"Go Ahead And Rock" - Collectables '91

"Rockin' And Rollin'" - Collectables '93

"At The Savoy Ballroom" - Jazz Archives

"Back Beat Rhythm Of The Blues" - Mercury

"Walk 'Em - The Decca Sessions" - Ace (UK) '96

"Buddy And Ella Johnson 1953 - 1964 - Bear Family '92

"Juke Box Hits 1940 - 1951" Acrobat

"The Band That Swings The Blues" - Culture Press 2000

"Walk 'Em Rhythm Band" - EPM Musique 2001

and four CDs from Melodie Jazz Classics - "1939-1942"; "1942-1947"; "1947-1949"; "1950-1951"

Ella Johnson also has two CDs - "Swing Me" for Polygram '91 and "Say Ella" for Juke Box Lil '95

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