JOHNNY CARROLL (By Jean-Marc Pezet)
Born John Lewis Carrell, 23 October 1937, Cleburne, Texas
Johnny Carroll grew up in Godley, Texas, a very small town (some 400 people) near Cleburne. As a youngster he listened to country music on the radio and got himself a guitar to practice on. When he was 10 years old his mother had taught him enough for him to appear over Cleburne's KCLA on Saturday mornings. He was later introduced to R&B by a cousin who was co-owner of a jukebox company and handed down 78's of Joe Turner and others. During his school days he and his school fellows were very much into coloured music and groups such as the Clovers and the Charms (of "Heart Of Stone" fame). At 15, Johnny organized his first band, the Texas Moonlighters; they had their own show on Cleburne's KCLA radio. In 1955, the band won first prize in a talent contest, and enrolled second prize winner guitarist Jay Salem in the band along the way. They opened for Ferlin Husky and were spotted by Jack "Tiger" Goldman, owner of the Top Ten Recording Studio in Dallas. The band cut several demos there, among them "Why Cry", "You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often" and "Crazy Crazy Lovin". A deal was arranged with Decca's Nashville division on the strength of the latter, and a two-day session was organized there on April 25 and 26, 1956 for Johnny, without his band. The backing group was composed of well-known session men, with Grady Martin on lead guitar. They cut the fantastic "Crazy Crazy Lovin", "Trying To Get To You", "Rock 'n' Roll Ruby", "Hot Rock", "Corrine, Corrina", and "Wild Wild Women" that make up the three magical Johnny Carroll Decca 45s. Two of these were also released in the UK, on Brunswick, but there were few sales on either side of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, this is rockabilly at its most intense, and these six sides alone assure Carroll's place in musical history. To promote Johnny, Tiger persuaded Sonny Friedman to shoot a quickie rock 'n' roll movie, "Rock Baby Rock It", featuring 4 son gs by Johnny Carroll and appearances by Rosco Gordon and others. Johnny was subsequently dropped from the Decca roster and in 1957 found himself accompanied by no less than Elvis' musicians, Scotty Moore and Bill Black (who had left Elvis following a dispute over salary). It was Bill who introduced Johnny to Sam Phillips who bought a couple of demos Johnny had recorded in Forth Worth, TX, on June 23, 1957. Sam issued "That's The Way I Love" b/w "I'll Wait" as one of the five first (simultaneous) releases on Phillips International, leaving "Rock Baby Rock It" and "You Made Me Love You" unreleased. Of these five records, "Raunchy" by Bill Justis turned out to be the hit and Phillips concentrated all his promotion on that disc, leaving Johnny's record out in the cold. His career at Sun was over before it had even begun.
In 1958, Johnny got himself a new manager, Ed E. McLemore, who ran an agency in Dallas that booked Gene Vincent, Jimmy Bowen, Buddy Knox and Sonny James. Johnny finally met Gene Vincent and they went on to become very close friends. Johnny wrote "Maybe", recorded by Gene in the autumn of 1958 for his "Sounds Like" LP. They both used more or less the same band at the time, and it is not surprising that the sides recorded by Johnny bore a strong resemblance to Gene Vincent's sound. The demos were sent to Warner Bros in New York who released "Bandstand Doll" b/w "The Swing" which sold quite well and became Johnny's biggest seller. Sadly, the second single "Sugar" b/w "Lost Without You" didn't follow the same path and sank without a trace. The third WB single, "Rag Mop"/ "Little Otis", produced by Grady Martin, contained two instrumentals (with a few vocal interjections), by Johnny's group, The Spinners. When this didn't sell either, Warner dropped Carroll and his band. The hard life on the road paid its dues and Johnny quit touring in 1959, though he had two more singles released in 1960 and 1962, two different versions of "Run Come See" for two small labels.
During the 1960s, Carroll's recording career lay dormant. Johnny worked as a booker and fixer at a Fort Worth nightclub owned by Bill Sellers, until good old Ronny Weiser persuaded him to cut a Gene Vincent tribute, "Black Leather Rebel"/"Be Bop A Lula" for his Rollin' Rock label in 1974. "Black Leather Rebel" is also known under the title "Gene Vincent Rock". A Rollin' Rock LP, "Texabilly" was recorded in 1977 and released in 1978. Johnny then teamed up with model and singer Judy Lindsey and went back to making music full-time. They played the night clubs in Texas and have been appearing regularly in Europe in the 1980s. They recorded for the Gipsy label, issuing numerous singles and an LP.
Johnny has always been a great and appreciated performer until his untimely death (of liver failure) in 1995. His Decca sides in particular are the creme de la creme.
And don't forget YouTube. Many Johnny Carroll videos there.
(This was originally message 14798 in the SAO archives, from October 23, 2002, by Jean-Marc Pezet, slightly edited and expanded by me - Dik)
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