Life and career
Lytle grew up in Springfield, Ohio in a family of music, the son of a trumpeter father and an organist mother. He began playing the drums and piano at an early age. Before studying music in earnest, he was a boxer, and was a successful Golden Gloves champion. During the late '50s, Lytle continued to box, but landed jobs as a drummer for Ray Charles, Jimmy Witherspoon and Gene Ammons. Then he switched from drums to vibraphone and toured with organist Hiram "Boots" Johnson from 1955 to '57. He formed his first group in 1957 with saxophonist Boots Johnson, organist Milton Harris and drummer William "Peppy" Hinnant. He impressed the Grammy award-winning producer Orrin Keepnews who signed him to his Jazzland label in 1960.
Lionel Hampton, considered one of the top vibes players in the world, said Lytle was "the greatest vibes player in the world." Lytle was known for his great hand speed and showmanship. He was also a songwriter, penning many of his own hits, including "The Loop," "The Man," "Lela," "Selim," and the jazz classic "The Village Caller." Lytle recorded more than 30 albums for various jazz labels including Jazzland, Solid State and Muse. Throughout his career he performed and recorded with jazz greats including Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, Nancy Wilson, Bobby Timmons and Roy Ayers. Lytle was such an admirer of the music of Miles Davis that he wrote "Selim" (Miles spelled backwards) in honor of Davis. He also featured his son, Marcel Lytle, on several recordings, as a vocalist and drummer.
Lytle never recorded with any of the major record labels and that could be why he never gained the status of a jazz icon like some of his peers. Feeling he would lose control of his music and creative development; he played what came natural to him, and being with a major label might not have afforded him that opportunity.
He found success early in his career with chart-topping albums like A Groove, The Loop, and Moonchild. From his swinging uptempo tracks to his soul-satisfying ballads, Lytle knew how to keep a groove. And with a nickname like "Fast Hands," he could always keep the attention of an audience. In addition to his musicianship, his gregarious personality made him a popular attraction on the jazz circuit. Even though he did not experience the same success he was privileged to during the '60s, he did continue to record and build a respectable catalog of music with recordings in the '70s,'80s and '90s.
Lytle remained a popular concert attraction in the U.S. and Europe; his last performance was with the Springfield (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra in his hometown on November 18, 1995. Passing away from kidney failure the following month, he was survived by his wife Barbara Jean Lytle, his son Marcel Anthony (of Atlanta), Michael-Lamont (of Toronto), and daughter Ayo Michelle Hagans (of Springfield) At the time of his death, Lytle was scheduled to begin recording a new CD on the Muse label. In his hometown of Springfield, Ohio, the street where he used to live was renamed Johnny Lytle Avenue in his honor.
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- Blue Vibes (Jazzland 22, 1960)
- Happy Ground (Jazzland 44, 1961) later reissued on Riverside 9470
- Nice and Easy (Jazzland 67, 1962)
- Moon Child (Jazzland 81, 1962)
- Got That Feeling! (Riverside 456, 1963)
- The Village Caller! (Riverside 480, 1963)
- The Loop (Tuba 5001, 1964)
- New and Groovy (Tuba 5002, 1966)
- Done it Again (Pacific Jazz 10125, 1967)
- Swingin' at the Gate (Pacific Jazz 10129, 1967)
- A Man and a Woman (Solid State 18014, 1968)
- The Sound of Velvet Soul (Solid State 18026, 1968)
- Be Proud (Solid State 18044, 1969)
- Close Enough for Jazz (Solid State 18056, 1969)
- Los Grandes del Jazz (Sarpe Spain, 1970)
- The Soulful Rebel (Milestone 9036, 1971)
- People & Love (Milestone 9043, 1972)
- Everything Must Change (Muse 5158, 1977)
- Fast Hands (Muse 5185, 1980)
- Good Vibes (Muse 5271, 1981)
- Happy Ground (Muse 5387, 1989)
- Moonchild (Muse 5431, 1991)
- Possum Grease (Muse 5482, 1992)
With Bobby Timmons
With Roger Troutman
- Richard Cook & Morton, Brian: The Penguin Guide To Jazz on CD, 6th Edition, London, Penguin, 2002 ISBN 0-14-017949-6
- Andrew Scott, Fast hands, Wax Poetics No. 40
-  Springfield News-Sun article, The real Johnny Lytle: Good vibes, bad business
-  Springfield News-Sun article, "How a local music icon ended up in an unmarked grave" Andrew McGinn
-  Springfield News-Sun article, "Homegrown jazz great finally gets a headstone for his resting place" Andrew McGinn