Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Day Beach Music Died: An homage to "The King of Beach Music"


The Lord blessed us on May 23rd, 1941 with racial and turbulent beginnings for General Norman Johnson in Norfolk, VA. Although widely believed to be a "stage name", this is to be his God given name for life. He was musically inclined before he could walk. Intrigued with sound and instruments, less of discovery or entrancement in infant years but more fashioned to be a part, control, and create the very essence of music. Stories of him dancing before he could walk and singing before he could talk are not hard to swallow after witnessing a single performance. That debut to the world would begin at the age of six in his church choir. In 1955 he first recorded on Atlantic Records at the age of twelve under the never to be released name of the Humdingers. That collection would be finally released in 1961 under the new group name that would be a foundation in what would later become beach music, The Showmen. That label Minit records would give the world "It Will Stand", a song that debuted on American Bandstand and quoted by Dick Clark as "...an anthem of an entire generation". That same year, suffering from a severe cold, he was forced by Swan Records to produce "39-21-46" as the labels for the 45 were already printed. He switched the lyrics for rhyming and articulate purposes to "39-21-40 shape" last minute in the studio. This was to become a cornerstone in Carolina Music and would eventually bring him into the performing circuit throughout the Southeast and ultimately bring him home.


In 1968, the Showmen disbanded and General pursued a career as a writer with Holland, Dozier, and Holland breaking free from Motown and creating Invictus Records. Mr. Johnson penned great hits while living with Lamont Dozier such as: "Somebody's Been Sleeping In My Bed" by 100 Proof Aged in Soul; "Want Ads", "Stick Up", "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" by Honeycomb; Freda Payne's "Bring the Boys Home"; and so many more it's unreal.

During this time at Invictus he started recording and performing as The Chairmen of the Board and introducing us to Danny Woods. Let the tunes roll out... "Pay To The Piper", "Give Me Just A Little More Time", "You've Got Me Dangling On A String", "Everything is Tuesday" and the original "Patches" which would become the GRAMMY Award winning R&B Song of the year in 1971 as recorded by Clarence Carter. "Soon, business disagreements deteriorated our musical relationship and eventually terminated our successful venture. In 1974, I left Invictus." - General Norman Johnson

This one action would prove to be the genesis for what we now call "Beach Music". The Chairmen of the Board hadn't performed in eight years when he returned to the Carolina's with Danny Woods adding Ken Knox and with the help of Agent/Promoter, Michael Branch, something big was about to happen to us all. It wasn't long that the touring and the show was unending and unstoppable. General remembered his earlier visits to the south: " My career has been a long exciting journey with all roads leading to the musical oasis called Beach Music. In the spring of 1966 in Raleigh, North Carolina, as lead singer of the Showmen, I performed before my first Beach Music audience. Thinking Beach Music was music by artist like The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, we nervously performed a variety of rhythm and blues classics. Surprisingly, each song was met with the audience's approval. As we ended the show with our regional hit "39-21-46" and our nationally charted hit song, "It Will Stand," the audience responded by applauding us back for an encore. Because we didn't know any other songs to perform, we sang two more verses of "It Will Stand" and spontaneously, began to ad lib the chorus of Bruce Channel's song "Hey Baby." As we sang "Hey Baby," we waved our hands in the air and to our surprise, everyone in the audience responded by doing the same. When we concluded the show with a bow, the audience showed their appreciation by rewarding us with another thunderous round of applause. That spring night, I understood, appreciated and became a part of the Beach Music phenomenon."

After years of music industry duress, General Norman Johnson introduced us to his baby known as "Surfside Records". This marketing genius and prolific songwriter then gave us "The Gift Of Beach Music". This album was the cornerstone in Beach Music. A collection of tunes that would be locked in our souls forever and emulated by writers and musician to this very day. Everyone I know can sing along to: "Down At The Beach Club", "I'd Rather Be In Carolina", "On The Beach", "Summer Love", "Bird In The Hand", "When Can I See You Again", and of course "Carolina Girls". It wasn't long that the national scene was back on his coat tails with the release of "Loverboy" on Arista Records and promotion by his Record Representative, Jerry Goodman. General Johnson said, " In 1981, two years after forming Surfside Records, I was contacted by Motown Records, leading to discussions with then CEO Mr. Berry Gordy Jr. The meetings at his home in California were personable and candid. His offer could have proven to be financially lucrative for me but would have meant moving to California and abandoning Surfside Records and the musical utopia that I had found to be a safe haven. I respectfully declined Motown offer and for years, I wondered if I had made the right decision".

In the year 2000 General was quoted as saying, "Nineteen years later, I have absolutely no regrets. Those years have been filled with excitement and personal fulfillment that exceeds any monetary gains that I could have attained". The music never stopped with songs like "Gone Fishing", "Dreamin'", "Shaggin' The Night Away", "It Ain't What You Got, It's They Way That You Use It" and so many more leading us right up to today with the "Soul Tapestry" offering. He's been a recipient of a Grammy, numerous CBMA Awards, and in recognition of the contribution that Johnson has made to American popular music, the Virginia General Assembly designated June 9, 2001 as "General Johnson Day" in Virginia.

In 2009, The General Finally gave us his two disc set, "Beach Music Anthology" a collection of his modern day successes and rerecorded perfections of his classics from the Invictus years. There was a lot of sweat that went into this project that hails to be a Bible of Southern classics. The Chairmen of the Board is widely known as one of the top entertaining R&B acts in the world. The performance has been a catapult for our music industry, a leader in song-writing and recording, and a liaison for children to college students into the Beach Music and Shag scene.

On October 13th around 10pm in a hospital in Atlanta, GA, General Norman Johnson joined the night shift and left us with more breathtaking performances, memories, and a collection of tunes that will forever represent and entire music industry, culture, and lifestyle.

A personal note: General Johnson's very existence as the ambassador of Beach Music is the sole reason there is an allegiance of live "southern-soul" music lovers. An unprecedented following from night clubs, large venues, and especially festivals. When Coastline started in 1992, Andy Smith brought us under the wing of Insight Talent (Mike Branch and General's Agency). I was in awe by his presence. He grew very fond of me and we became good friends. He always gave me advice and insisted that I keep writing and performing my songs to create loyal followers. I have listened and I will act accordingly. I am a fan. Unworthy of ever comparing or relating myself to his stature, I will say he taught me everything I know. At his final performance of the Triangle Beach Music Festival in 2009 he asked me to join him for a private listening to the unreleased "Soul Tapestry". While listening, there were certain places where Mr. Johnson would tear up and cry. He believed what he wrote. He conveyed it when he sang to the point that was knee deep in own emotions, even when reviewing his own work. I honestly believe, he knew this day was coming and he wrote this song to us... A message to us:

CHANCES ARE
(Written by General Johnson)

Sometimes I think about it, where did all the time go
Seems like just yesterday, I never thought of growin’ old
When I look in the mirror my daddy’s face I see
Slowly but surely, time has taken its toll on me
Shattered dreams, scattered schemes, the check was always in the mail
If success is material things I guess I failed
But if I could live my life all over again
I wouldn’t change a thing
If I could live my life all over again
I wouldn’t change a thing
Cause if I would change one second of my life
Chances are…I wouldn’t have you
I had some bad times ah but I had me some good times too
Ain’t it funny how as time goes by most of the bad times seem like good times too
When I think about my young and crazy days
I regret the precious time I wasted away
Sometimes I wonder how I made it through it all
I slipped, tripped, and stumbled but I refuse to fall
And If I could live my life all over again
I wouldn’t change a thing
If I could live my life all over again
I wouldn’t change one thing
Cause If I would change one second of my life
Chances are…I wouldn’t have you
Oh without you-what would I do
I’m no good without you
I wouldn’t trade places with the richest man on Earth
Money can’t buy me a friend; money ain’t what I’m worth
Ups, downs, round and rounds help me be who I am
I wouldn’t change a doggone thing cause you love me for who I am
Oh If I could live my life all over again
I wouldn’t change a thing
I said if I could live my life all over again
I wouldn’t change a thing
Cause If I would change one second of my life
Chances are…I wouldn’t have you

A Final Note: By spinning from Don McLean's "American Pie" and re-coining a phrase, my intentions are not to create fear or disillusion with fans of our music. I also have no intentions degrading anyone else or placing demise in any regard. It is just duly noted that things will never be the same. There is no effort available, obtainable, or permissible that could even venture into the realm of this great man's amplitude, enormity, and merit. The undisputed "King Of Beach Music" has passed. A musical genius. A good man. A loving man. A humorous man. A generous man. After all, today's the day Beach Music died, but the gift of Beach Music lives on.

23 comments:

  1. Well said Jim!!! Jeff Hinson (North Tower)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good article Jim, i have known Norman since the late 70's & have had some great conversions with him. We used to have a lot of fun joking around. I have many fond memories of a great entertainer.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I remember a lot of good times with General Norman Johnson in the past. I went to quite a few of his performances...even got to talk to him a couple times. I'll never forget he told me he liked my leather jacket. Thanks for making beach music what it is today. We're surely "Gonna Miss You!"

    ReplyDelete
  4. First time I ever saw him perform was in Oxford with the Showmen. It was my first time seeing a big name act in person. I have been a fan every since and will always associate 'beach music' with General Johnson> I will miss that unique voice.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I feel lucky to have seen him last year for the first time.I am so glad he recorded "Chances Are", it makes me tear up each and every time I hear it. RIP General.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jim Quick,
    Once again you have made me cry with words from your heart. This is a beauiful tribute to the King Of Beach Music. The General always spoke from his heart with his songs and you have done this today from your heart for him. I just want you to know I love you and I loved him. I know he is singing with Mark and they are remembering Hugo's where we met them every year on Thanksgiving night. I know that each one of us has our special thought of our glimpse into his world through his music or through his mentoring or maybe just a special moment! (one of his hugs and kisses)

    ReplyDelete
  7. WHAT A WONDERFUL STORY AND JIM WE HAVE LOST ONE OF THE MOST WONDERFUL ENTERTAINERS IN BEACH MUSIC. HIS MUSIC WILL LIVE FOREVER EVEN THOUGH HE IS GONE. WE JUST HAVE TO REMEMBER WHAT HE GAVE TO US IN OUR LIFE TIME. HE WILL BE GREATLY MISSED.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I called Clarence Carter in Dacatur Ga this morning & slowly told him. He was taken aback & didn`t speak for a bit. We talked some more & recalled a couple of shows. We talked about how many of this generation of artists we had lost & how few were left. He said he was "going for another 100 years", he said to send his condolences & to get back to him on arrangements. He then told me "I will try to take care of Ol Patches as long as I can ". We said goodbye. I hung up & cried.
    God Bless em all. We have truly been blessed
    Duane Goins

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a great tribute, Jim. So very well said. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a beautiful tribute. General wrote music that anyone could relate to. He was a beautiful soul, with a great big heart. He had an amazingly unique voice that can't be duplicated. I am blessed to have known this man. He touched my life and has left me sweet memories. Rest in peace Big G. You will be missed and never forgotten.

    Pamela Long

    ReplyDelete
  11. Beautiful words about a beautiful man. I feel sorry for those that have never been exposed to his music...

    ReplyDelete
  12. The songs and performances of General Johnson are part of the fabric of my life. I listened and danced to his music as a teenager and still now with grandones run to the dance floor when his music plays. My sweetie and I never sit still during Carolina Girls (or most of his other songs) The happiness and pleasure he brought to so many is immeasurable which is the true measure of success. Rest in peace General and thank you for the music that's in our souls.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Jim, you are a Master when it comes to words, Thanks for sharing this story with all of us. God Bless you too.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  15. It is sad to grow older and lose old friends but it would be even sadder to not have known him at all.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Articulate and eloquent, Jim! Your beautiful remarks totally capture the handsome King of Beach Music whose marvelous performances thrilled us all! General never took his popularity and fame seriously. He never lost his touch with his fans. I remember him dearly at a small club in Emerald Isle NC where following his first set, he pulled up a chair at our table and joined us in conversation. Such a good man who was passionate about his music! Beach Music has lost an irreplaceable icon! Thank you dear General for the joy you gave us all!
    Sad today in Mt Pleasant!
    A Carolina Girl who loved the General

    ReplyDelete
  17. "my heart was a lonely house where strangers wondered in and out, until Tuesday" General Johnson

    Death cannot kill what never dies and there is so much that lives beyond what our eyes can see. Once a great song enters your ears, it will never leave your mind or your heart. General Johnson still lives inside so many people that loved his music. And his music, "It Will Stand" exactly as he sang it would.

    Mani Leibe
    AM rOdeO

    ReplyDelete
  18. "Soul to Soul" Jim, "Soul to Soul"

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jim, As I read your tribute to Norman I felt a plethora of emotions. I am sure some of the same ones you felt when you wrote it. I am so happy you were friends with him and you took his advice to heart. You also write and interact from your heart. I am so proud that you value your fans and you appreciate them as he did. I am sure part of that came from your relationship with the General, But much of it is also just who you are! I see gratitude in your eyes when you hear your fans singing your songs when you are on stage. That will take you a long way! Thank you for sharing this with us ! Love you Your Mamma Harriett

    ReplyDelete