Lou Johnson (singer)
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Life and career
Coming from a musical family, he started singing in gospel choirs in his teens, before studying music at Brooklyn College. He learned keyboards and percussion, forming a gospel group, the Zionettes, who recorded for Simpson Records and achieved some local success. Johnson then formed a secular vocal group, the Coanjos, with Tresia Cleveland and Ann Gissendammer, recording "Dance The Boomerang" before Cleveland and Gissendammer left to become The Soul Sisters.
In 1962, Johnson signed as a solo singer with Big Top Records, run by the Hill & Range music publishing company in the Brill Building. There, he met the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who wrote Johnson's first single, "If I Never Get To Love You". Neither that song nor his second record, "You Better Let Him Go", were hits, but his third single, "Reach Out For Me", also written by Bacharach and David and this time produced by Bacharach, reached # 74 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1963. However, as it rose up the charts, the record company collapsed so limiting the record's success.
Johnson signed to its successor label, Big Hill and continued to record Bacharach and David songs. In 1964, his original version of "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me", with backing vocals by Doris Troy, Dee Dee Warwick, and Cissy Houston, reached # 49 in the US charts. In the UK, a cover version by English singer Sandie Shaw rose to number one on the British singles chart.
Johnson also recorded the original versions of several other Bacharach and David songs that later proved to be bigger hits for other musicians. "Reach Out for Me", "Message to Michael (Kentucky Bluebird)" (originally "A Message To Martha"), and "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" were all American hits, also produced by Bacharach and David, for Dionne Warwick. Several of his records reached the Cashbox R&B Top 20 including "Always" peaking at # 12 and "Reach Out" at # 15. In the UK, Johnson's version of "A Message To Martha" was his biggest hit, reaching # 36 in late 1964, but was outsold by the cover version by Adam Faith.
In 1965, working with the production team of Bill Giant, Bernie Baum and Florence Kaye on the reactivated Big Top label, Johnson recorded a vocal version of Sidney Bechet's instrumental hit of a few years earlier, "Petite Fleur", entitled "A Time To Love, A Time To Cry". He appeared on the British TV programme Ready Steady Go! to promote it, but neither it nor its follow-ups, a version of the jazz standard "Anytime" and then a version of "Walk On By" co-produced by Allen Toussaint, were successful, and the record company's choice of songs distanced him from his earlier audience. An album, also called Anytime, went unreleased as the record company again collapsed.
Johnson recorded two albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first, Sweet Southern Soul, for the Atlantic subsidiary Cotillion, was produced by the company's main R&B producer, Jerry Wexler, at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Allen Toussaint produced the second, With You in Mind, at his New Orleans studio for Stax's Volt label, but neither proved successful. After moving to Orange County, California, Johnson became a nightclub entertainer. He sometimes performed in a latter-day version of The Ink Spots.
A CD retrospective of his recordings with Big Top/Big Hill Records in the 1960s, was put together by the UK label Ace/Kent Records in 2010. Although released in mono, it contained 'audio-restored' versions of all of his known recordings made at the time, including his work with Bacharach.
|1963||"Reach Out For Me"||74||-|
|1964||"(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me"||49||-|
|"Message To Martha (Kentucky Bluebird)"||-||36|
|1965||"A Time To Love - A Time To Cry (Petite Fleur)"||59||-|
- "Biography by Jason Ankeny". Allmusic.com. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
- Peter Burns, Biography of Lou Johnson at Soul Music HQ
- The Vinyl Consultancy
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 287. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 365. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
- Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 404. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.