Roy Lee Johnson
Despite 40 years in the music business, details about Roy Lee’s life are rather scarce. He was born on 31 December 1938, reportedly in Heard Count, Georgia, and started his recording career as a member of the Brassett's who cut a 45 for Stat. When some other members of the group, including the great Robert Ward, went on to join the Ohio Untouchables, Johnson was not among them. He surfaced next as guitarist and vocalist for Piano Red, for whom he wrote and sang “Mr Moonlight”, the flip of Red’s small eponymous hit “Dr Feelgood”. Since the Beatles covered Johnson’s song it’s an easy assumption that this number has brought him the biggest pay checks he’s ever received.
Following the success of “Dr Feelgood” Johnson went solo for the label that issued it, Columbia, and cut a couple of sides for their Okeh subsidiary, followed by three for the main logo. Most of these are R & B based soul, but Johnson’s confident, high powered vocals are excellent and the songs he write for the sessions are very high quality indeed.. He reprised his own cynical “Nobody Does Something For Nothing” in a deep soul vein, tinged with a touch of doo-wop. Better than this was the bluesy Too Many Tears, which had some nicely judged chord changes and one of Roy’s most committed vocals. A very fine side.
My Best Just Ain’t Good Enough is a first rate blues ballad, featuring an extended spoken section as Johnson details his woes, rather like Clarence Ashe’s “Troubles I’ve Had”. The flip has gained exposure in the blues/rock world via Roy Buchanan but Johnson’s original is an excellent 12 bar workout. Both sides of his final Columbia 45 may just be as good as anything he’s done. “Slowly I'm Falling In Love With You” is a midpaced ballad of considerable merit, and “It’s All Over” is a plodding slowie with some ragged horn support that gives it a off-beat attraction. Both sides feature Johnson's guitar sounding eerily like his friend and smometime employer Robert Ward.
For Southern soul fans, however, his trip to Muscle Shoals which produced the 2 Philips singles is the highlight of Johnson’s 60s work. Both Cheer Up Daddy’s Coming Home and Take Me Back And Try Me are full-on Fame beauties with all the trimmings – tasteful guitar and organ/piano figures, rich horns and Roger Hawkins impeccable drumming. Plus Johnson’s best ever soul vocals. Deep soul perfection.
The bouncy “So Anna Just Love Me” was leased to Josie by Atlanta record man Wendell Parker, but there was then a gap till the funk of his Stax output, a contract arranged by Jimmy Johnson who was knocked out by the energy that Johnson and his group the Villagers had. Most of the session’s set was rhythm and not much melody, more suited to a club environment that listening, but “I Can’t Stand This Loneliness” and “Something Special” slow the pace down a bit. The latter in particular, a rather slinky number features one of Roy’s most flexible vocal tracks.
Later in the 70s he cut for a rather disappointing 45 for Homark, and a considerably better one for 1-2-3. “Stormy Feeling” is a class beat ballad, with Roy really hitting all the right buttons, backed by a small rhythm section. His Gold Thumb recordings were lovingly collected together by Dave Porter on the LP “All Night Long” and there is some fine 80s style indie soul on view here. His recent CD “When A Guitar Plays The Blues” shows that the fire still burns.
Johnson has been an intriguing figure on the southern soul scene for decades, always on the road gigging, and this cult soulman’s records are never less than interesting.
UPDATE ~ I have now managed to get hold of the Brassettes Ebb 45 and it doesn't sound anything like Johnson at all. Chris Stovall Brown has come to the same conclusion but very helpfully taken the issue one step further by coming up with some superb info on a 45 on the Stat label by the Brassett's which must be the right single for Johnson's first recording. The details of Stat 721 are:-
The House In The Alley (Vcl-William Black)
Nobody Does Something For Nothing (Vcl-Robert Ward)
It is well documented that members of the Brassett's went on to form the Ohio Untouchables, and with one side of the 45 with a vocal by the great Robert Ward, who was of course the group's guitarist, this must be the right 45.
In the light of this I have amended the text and the discography and added a pic of the Stat 45. Now all I have to do is find a copy of it...
I really am very grateful to Chris Stovall Brown for sorting all this out. Chris also wants me to thank Jaap Hindricks which I'm very happy to do.
The house in the alley / Nobody does something for nothing ~ STAT 721 (mid 1950s?)
(as THE BRASSETT'S) (vocal A side ~ WILLIAM BLACK) (vocal B side ROBERT WARD)
Dr Feelgood / Mr Moonlight ~ OKEH 7144 (1961) (as DR FEELGOOD & THE INTERNS)
Too many tears / Black pepper will make you sneeze ~ OKEH 7160 (1962)
Nobody does something for nothing / Busybody ~ OKEH 7182 (1962)
My best just ain't good enough / When a guitar plays the blues ~ COLUMBIA 43286 (1965)
Stanback headache powder / Two doors down ~ COLUMBIA 43529 (1966)
It's all over / Slowly I'm falling in love with you ~ COLUMBIA 43674 (1966)
Cheer up daddy's coming home / Guitar man ~ PHILIPS 40509 (1967)
Take me back and try me / She put the whammy on me ~ PHILIPS 40558 (1967)
Boogaloo #3 / So Anna just love me ~ JOSIE 965 (1968)
The dryer / Pt 2 ~ STAX 0144 (1973)
Stormy feelings / Just in time for the wedding ~ 123 716 (1978)
Hostage let our people go / Let the candle light the way ~ HOMARK 0021 (1980)
All night / We need to sit down and talk about it ~ GOLD THUMB 1004 (1988)
Dr Feelgood & the Interns ~ OKEH LP 12101 (1962)
Roy Lee Johnson & the Villagers ~ STAX LP 3020 (1973 )
All night long ~ HOWZAT! LP 1 (1991)
When a guitar plays the blues ~ SOUTHERN TRACKS CD 0100 (1998)
Note - Martin Goggin wrote a fascinating account of Johnson's career in Juke Blues no. 59 (see Links) - buy it.
Thanks to Martin Goggin for extra info and to Neil Pellegrin for sorting out the discography.