The Freeman Brothers – Johnny and Jerry – cut several 45s mainly in New York in the early 60s. Johnny was the key vocalist and Jerry worked mainly on the musical side of things. However their names weren’t Freeman and they weren’t brothers. “Johnny” was really Johnny Mitchell the former lead singer with doo wop group the Majestics and “Jerry’s” real name was Gerald Williams. And while Johnny had one of the great unheralded voices in soul music – a thrilling baritone with a large range and an attack as incisive as Johnny Sayles' – the material too often let him down.
The Jovial 45 for example is a poor recut of a Motown classic (even though it is interesting to see a mention of Chuck Henley on the instrumental flip), and both the Sprout and the Soul singles are unmelodic and messy. But that does leave two stone masterpieces. The Mala 45 I’m Counting On You is well known as a first class ballad, on which Johnny sings with power and passion, over a churchy organ (probably played by his “brother”) and some rather understated horns. But if that was good You Got Me On A String is sensational. The backing of organ, piano and guitar is beautifully arranged, as is the big big horn section, and the drummer certainly knows his stuff but the focus is really all on Johnny. His aching sincerity is brilliant, but the excursions into falsetto screams just take the lid off the track. Simply awesome – no wonder it is held in such high esteem by deep soul enthusiasts. A case where rarity certainly does equal quality.
UPDATE ~ Mike Finbow has written to say "noting the Majestics connection I wondered if you had ever heard an unissued track by them titled "Guilty". It sounds like it was cut in Detroit circa 1963 and is similar in style to "String". The lead vocal is similar too, and could easily be Johnny Mitchell at his most manic. It appeared on a Moonshine compilation titled Motortown Group Sounds Vol. 2." Checking out "Guilty" it could indeed be Johnny Freeman singing lead. Very interesting info - I'm grateful to Mike for getting in touch to pass it on.
NEW UPDATE ~ Salv Macasil writes to say that he has been in contact with one of the writers/producers of the song "I'm Counting On You" - Julius Bannerman - who has passed on this info on the guys - "They all was from Pensacola Fl. The Leader of the Band was Jerry Freeman, and the Lead singer was; Mighty Freeman, at least that was the names they went by. I don't know what happen to the rest of the band, but Jerry Freeman was shot to death somewhere in Harlem New York about 6 years after recording and co-producing this record along with me, Mighty returned to Pensacola earlier on to be with the love of his life. Its the last I ever heard of him. But what great talent".
I'm grateful both to Salv and Julius.
You got me on a string / Swingin’ round the town ~ INTERNATIONAL ALLIED 501 (1963)
Every day it’s you / I’m counting on you ~ MALA 485 (1964) & 553 (1966)
Come and get these memories / Groove time ~ JOVIAL 100 (1964/5?)
My baby / Beautiful brown eyes ~ SOUL 35011 (1965)
I wanna be loved / ?? ~ FORMAT 121 (1966)
Sally go's up the ladder / Life of love ~ SPROUT 425 (1968)
“I’m counting on you” can be found on the Ace UK CD “The Birth Of Soul Vol 2” and “Life of love” can be found on the Ace UK CD “J & S Harlem Soul”.