Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ray Johnson's Piano is on hundreds of Billboard Number #1 Songs

RENO NV (IFS) -- RG Ingersoll reported yesterday of the passing of his renown international keyboardist and artist, Ray Johnson.  Ingersoll was Johnson last record producer for his HoTrax Productions company. Johnson who was 82 at the time and was working at the NBC Universal Hilton in Studio City, California. Johnson's hot licks on the piano has been featured on over hundreds of songs and several hundred number 1 Billboard singles.  Ingersoll told a show crowd during a festival on the California Central Coast some years ago, that "Johnson could play for a head of lettuce, and get a hit recording."  Mr. Johnson you will be missed, but thankful that your music and memories will live digitally forever.

Ray Johnson - R.I.P.
Raymond “Ray” Johnson, 82, of Woodland Hills, California, passed away at his home on Saturday, March 16, 2013. He was born in New Orleans to Plas J. and Grace Johnson.

Ray is an accomplished and distinguished piano entertainer. Born in New Orleans, Ray's early influence in music was blues artists like Charles Brown, Ray Charles and T Born Walker. His mother Grace played piano, so that's the instrument of his choice since the age of 4. She was his first teacher, just by letting him sit by her as she practiced, he watched her fingers and would try to play what she played.

Ray formally studied music at Xavier University and took private lessons for about 4 years. Music was his major at Dillard University for 3 years. At college, Dillard University, in New Orleans, his brother Plas and Ray formed the Johnson Brothers Combo. Together they played gigs in and out of the city for a while. He went to Germany and conducted a military band for a while playing the alto sax. When they left the army, they played in Watsonville and Salinas California for about a year, then they came to Los Angeles and continued to perform together until Plas got his group and Ray organized his sound with piano bass and drums.

In the early 60's he made records with Johnny Otis and his TV Show. Around this time he arranged national hit "Death of an Angel" and "a casual look" with Flip records. He also started at this time to work under Rene Hall and Jimmy Haskell, two renowned recording arrangers.His career highlights are numerous such as: the 75th Oscar Awards as keyboardist for Queen Latifah & Catherine Zeta Jones, with Sammy Davis Jr. along with the Johnny Otis Show. The 6th Annual Rhythm & Blues Pioneer Awards, Band Member of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Pianist with Johnny Otis Band, and more.

Ray appeared also on television portraying Ray Charles for the Heineken Beer Commercial - as a Musical Cast Member in "The Rosie Gier Variety Show" on ABC, The Johnny Otis Show as Cast Performer. He is also good in acting such in "Beggar Man Thief" portraying Nat King Cole, in "The little Richard Story" portraying himself and many other roles.

The 60's was his famous recording years with Rick Nelson, Nat Cole, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra to name a few. During this period he was pianist with the #1 TV show in the nation "Shindig". Many International names performed with them on that show . His first video was with Aretha Franklin singing "Mockin Bird"...After his studio he continued with his trio, duo and singles work both locally and in Japan. Ray has been to Japan 12 times (Tokyo 3 times, Osaka 7 times, Fuko o ko once, Kobe once). He just completed 2 months in Dakanyama, Japan at the Tableaux Piano Bar. Now he plans to try Europe and the Middle East.

Ray Johnson can be heard playing the rhythmic piano parts on such classics as "Traveling Man" by Ricky Nelson and "Rambling Rose" by Nat "King" Cole. After several sessions with his brother, sax man Plas Johnson, Ray recorded several sides with soul singer Sam Cooke. Ray provided great insight on his own career, placing his main inspiration on his mother. He also talked about Cooke's last recording session before his tragic death in 1964.

Ray Johnson

Ray Johnson is the older brother of saxman Plas Johnson (born 1931). Theirs was a Creole family that included other fine musical talents, like singing sister Gwen Johnson and cousins Renald Richard (who co-wrote "I Got A Woman" with Ray Charles), Don Vappie and Michael White. Their father, Plas Johnson Sr., was a musician who played multiple instruments, saxophone, guitar and banjo.

Ray and Plas attended grammar school in Thibodaux and later Dillard University, a private liberal arts college in New Orleans. Ray played saxophone and drums in his school bands, but he settled on the piano when nightclub owner Ernie Stovall hired the brothers, with Plas playing a b-flat soprano sax, for their first gig when they were 13 and 12. They continued to play nightclubs whenever they could and by the late 1940s the teenage Johnson Brothers Combo was a respected band in New Orleans, playing shows at various clubs, including the Dew Drop Inn. Paul Gayten recognized their talent and recorded them for DeLuxe Records in 1949.

Ray mentions Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and, most of all, Charles Brown, as his idols from that period. The Johnson Brothers broke up temporarily when Plas joined Charles Brown's band in 1951. Soon both he and Ray were drafted into the army. Upon getting out in 1953, Ray returned briefly to New Orleans. That is when and where he recorded his four Mercury sides (clearly influenced by Charles Brown), which were released on two singles and have just been reissued by Bear Family on the 2-CD "The Mercury Records New Orleans Sessions 1950 & 1953".

In 1954, he rejoined Plas who had moved to California where he would become one of the busiest session men on the L.A. music scene. Though it took some time, Ray also became an in demand session player, like his brother and other fellow New Orleans expatriates Earl Palmer and Rene Hall. He played piano on the doowop hit "A Casual Look" by the Six Teens (Flip 315, 1956) and also had two solo releases on Flip. He worked with Earl Palmer at Aladdin, for which he recorded two further singles, and had also singles released on Dot, Glam, Liberty, RCA, Imperial and Acclaim. In November 1959 Ray became Ricky Nelson's regular session pianist (succeeding Gene Garf) and Ray can be heard on such hits as "Hello Mary Lou", "Travelin' Man" and "A Wonder Like You". Later he played on albums by Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole ("Ramblin' Rose"), Canned Heat and T-Bone Walker. Ray is the pianist on the first LP ("Let's Go") by the instrumental group The Routers. The flip of their hit "Let's Go" was "Mashy" and I had owned that single for 40 years when I bought the Buena Vista CD release of "Let's Go / Charge + Bonus Tracks "in 2003. On that CD the piano on "Mashy" is mixed much more to the fore than on the single and it shows Ray's piano skills as a sideman at its best. Ray also did television shows, including "The Johnny Otis Show", "Shindig" and "The Rosy Grier Show" in L.A., along with commercials. He has made more than a dozen trips to Japan where blues piano balladeers ar very popular. Today is he still working in the neighbour- hood bars and plans to put out a reunion Johnson Brothers CD.

Not much is available by Ray on CD. Apart from the four Mercury sides mentioned above, three Flip tracks by the Ray Johnson Combo were recently reissued on "Flip Hits! Plus Flip Misses" (Ace 1086) and "Itty Bitty Bee", recorded for Johnny Otis's Dig label and originally unissued, has been included on "Dapper Cats, Groovy Tunes And Hot Guitars" (Ace 351). In 2000 Ray recorded the CD "Ray Johnson Bluz" for the Goad label : and there may be other recent releases on Goad, which are probably hard to get.

Acknowledgements :
- Tapio Väisänen
- Rick Coleman, Liner notes for "Mercury Records : The New Orleans Sessions 1950 & 1953" (Bear Family BCD 16804, 2-CD). Among Coleman's sources is even a reference to the Shakin' All Over library (Bo Berglind's article on Murray Nash, who produced the New Orleans sessions).

Ray was an accomplished piano-playing entertainer. His early influences were blues artists like Charles Brown, Ray Charles and T-Bone Walker. His mother Grace played piano and was his first teacher. He and his brother Plas formed the Johnson Brothers Combo when both were teens and played gigs around New Orleans, and recorded for Deluxe Records. He attended Dillard University in New Orleans for 2 years before being drafted into the Army. He returned to New Orleans briefly after being discharged, then moved to California to join brother Plas.

Ray’s credits are extensive, ranging from recording with the likes of Ricky Nelson, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke and Frank Sinatra. He was part of the musical casts of Shindig, The Johnny Otis Show and the Rosy Grier Show, and did commercials (Heineken beer) and some acting (Beggar Man, Thief, portraying Nat King Cole, and The Little Richard Story, among others.) He also did the arranging for the hits Death of an Angel, and A Casual Look. He played keyboards for Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta Jones on the 75th Oscar Awards, among many other accomplishments.

He is survived by his wife, Helen, brother Plas, and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and sister Gwen.

Memorial arrangements to be announced at a later date.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How Live Nation Deal Cornered Justin Timberlake

 by Shirley Halperin

The superstar rolled out his album “20/20” in three months instead of the usual year as a $20 million deal with the concert industry giant came due.

This story first appeared in the April 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The seemingly flawless rollout of Justin Timberlake's new album, The 20/20 Experience, which sold 968,000 copies during its first week of release, has confounded many in the music business. After all, it wasn't long ago -- June 2011, to be exact -- that the 32-year-old singer declared in Playboy, "Music is not my focus right now," shortly after telling Vanity Fair: "I wouldn't say I'm not going to put out another [album]. I would say that would be a bad bet, if you were betting."

One entity that was putting money on the former 'N Syncer's musical future: Live Nation. In 2008, the concert industry giant entered the business of Timberlake when it acquired Signatures, a leading merchandising company that counts the pop star among its exclusive licenses. Months later, it announced a multiyear agreement to feature 901, the premium tequila brand Timberlake launched, as the official tequila of Live Nation venues.

According to multiple sources, a 2009 partnership with Timberlake, structured after Jay-Z's game-changing $150 million Live Nation 360 deal and Timberlake's AEG-promoted, $126 million-grossing 2007 FutureSex/LoveShow tour, was quid pro quo for a touring commitment to Live Nation. In exchange, Timberlake received about $20 million -- $5 million of it free and clear, or "a gimme," as one insider describes it. (Worth noting: Timberlake could have returned it had he not toured.)

So it's understandable that upon hearing of Timberlake's intended hiatus, the company would become uneasy at the prospect of waiting endlessly for its star, who had garnered accolades as an actor, appearing in Oscar-caliber films and rom-coms. Timberlake next will be seen in the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, but not before he takes part in the massive Live Nation-promoted Legends of the Summer tour, which he'll co-headline with Jay-Z.

Says one high-ranking source, "There is a due date by which you have to start touring -- at some point, [Live Nation] has to call in the loan."

Typically, an album launch for a megastar of Timberlake's stature would take a year to set up at radio and retail, in addition to recording time. But with 20/20, the public first got word of its March 19 release in January, after which Timberlake kicked off a massive TV and marketing blitz that included a hosting stint on Saturday Night Live, a week's worth of appearances on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, a surprise performance at South by Southwest and a national ad campaign for Target, which is selling a deluxe edition of the album in addition to devoting prime retail space to the pop star. Timberlake also has been approached for an endorsement deal with Diet Coke.

Talk about going from zero to jet speed in a minute. Which begs the question: Was the album rushed so there would be product to sell in addition to concert tickets? Longtime Timberlake manager Johnny Wright told CNN during the network's 30-minute special, The Justin Timberlake Experience, that 20/20 was made in only 20 days, which might account for the mixed reviews it has received. The New York Times called it "primarily a paean to brand maintenance." Said Jody Rosen in Rolling Stone: "There are no songs as instantly infectious as 'SexyBack.' … But eventually the music sinks its teeth in."

STORY: Justin Timberlake's '20/20' Heading to 950,000-Plus Debut

There also was a hitch leading up to the Feb. 22 tour announcement. The album's first single, "Suit & Tie," with its retro groove and '70s-esque falsetto, seemed to have a slow start at radio after its Jan. 15 debut -- so much so that, according to an insider, the promoter worried whether Timberlake, six years removed from his previous tour, could fill arenas.

Enter rap legend Jay-Z, who recently befriended the pop star and suggested the two hit the road together. Driving the nepotism home, the stars share close ties with Timbaland, who produced 20/20, signed to Roc Nation in January and is in the studio with Jay-Z. As for the Legends trek, while Jay-Z's addition upped the venue size to stadiums, a Timberlake source asserts that the headliners will split revenue 50-50. The summer tour should bring in north of $60 million, estimates one insider, which is more than enough to cover Timberlake's obligation to Live Nation.

A rep for the concert company tells THR: "Live Nation always envisioned an arena tour for Justin Timberlake. After their successful studio collaboration, Justin and Jay-Z approached us, and we are thrilled to promote their stadium tour."

The team-up strategy seems to be working: According to StubHub, Legends of the Summer is outselling Jay-Z's previous Watch the Throne outing with Kanye West by a 5-to-1 margin. As for "Suit & Tie," it's at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, with follow-up "Mirrors" hot on its heels. All this momentum will lead to Timberlake's own headlining outing in the fall, a Live Nation rep confirms, without specifying what size venues he'll play.

STORY: TV Ratings: Justin Timberlake 'Saturday Night Live' Is NBC's Top-Rated Show of 2013

In a way, Timberlake's insta-arrival is a testament to his pop-culture staying power. It's a rarity, but don't call it a comeback. "That implies that Justin was 'down' at some point," says on-air personality Chris Booker of Los Angeles' AMP Radio. "I see it more as a pause. He stepped away on top of the pop world, and nobody filled the void. I hope he gets the music bug more often; it's his strong suit and tie."

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin