THE SHOWMEN (by Tony Wilkinson)

The Showmen are a group renowned throughout the world for their rock 'n' roll anthem "It Will Stand". The original name for the group was The Humdingers and consisted of General Norman Johnson (born 23 May, 1943, lead), Milton "Smokes" Wells (bass), Gene "Cheater" Knight (first tenor), Dorsey "Chops" Knight (second tenor) and Leslie "Fat Boy" Felton (baritone). They first came together in the mid-fifties in their home town of Norfolk, Virginia, and in 1956 recorded for Jesse Stone at Atlantic, but these four titles in the Frankie Lymon mould were not released.

In the late 50's the group was managed by Noah Biggs who around the turn of the decade implemented a demonstration recording session. This was sent to Joe Banashak in New Orleans who picked up on the outfit, but insisted on a name change - The Showmen resulted. (Quite why these demo tapes were not pitched to the local Norfolk Mr. Big of the record world, namely Frank Guida at Legrand Records, who was hitting big with U.S. Bonds, is a mystery.)

After a mainly abortive session in Washington DC, with Allen Toussaint at the helm, Banashak summoned the group to the Crescent City in May 1961 and eight tracks were laid down. The first release was "Country Fool"/ "It Will Stand" (Minit 632), but true to the classic rock 'n' roll fairy tale it was the flip-side that caught the public's ear and became a modest hit, peaking at # 61 at the tail end of 1961. This is strange when the later reputation of the song is considered. However, the impact was sufficient to get the combo on the road with package tours, etc.

The follow-up single "Fate Planned It This Way"/"The Wrong Girl" (Minit 643) promptly went nowhere and so a further session was called for in April 1962 at which seven tracks were cut. A further three singles saw the light of day on the Minit label in 1962/1963 but all bombed. The Showmen became disillusioned, and with Joe Banashak in temporary retirement, there came a parting of the ways. After Liberty Records acquired the Imperial / Minit catalogue, they reissued "It Will Stand" on Imperial 66033 in 1964. Again, it became a modest hit, this time peaking at # 80.

It was not until 1965 that the group re-emerged on vinyl with Swan Records. There were three singles issued for this label and clealy showeb that The Showmen were attempting to move with the changing musical directions. Four of these Swan recordings were reissued on the "Walkin' With Willie" CD mentioned below.

In 1968 lead singer Norman Johnson left the outfit and formed the Chairmen of the Board, who recorded for Invictus Records, a label set up by Holland, Dozier and Holland after they split from Tamla Motown. The group had a monster hit with "Give Me Just A Little More Time" (# 3) in 1970, followed by five other chart entries. Johnson eventually went out as a solo act in the late seventies.

However, The Showmen did not fold at this time, continuing with Leslie Felton taking over the lead vocals, finally disintegrating in the early 1970s. Come the late 80's, General Johnson reformed The Chairmen of the Board and the Showmen. In the 1990s both outfits were working in the south east seaboard area around the Carolinas, teaching everybody how to Shag (no vicar, it is a quaint North American dance). This genre, Beach Music, has a long history, see:

Adapted from Tony's liner notes for the CD "Walkin' With Willie : Willie Mitchell Combo and the Four Kings, plus Earl Wade, Lee Andrews, Big Buddy Lucas, The Showmen and Larry Clinton" (Roller Coaster RCCD 3009, 1994). I have added a few sentences here and there - Dik

CD: The Showmen, It Will Stand (Collectables, 1990). 16 tracks.

Lyrics of "It Will Stand":

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