According to the liner notes to his only album Johnny Robinson was born in Tuskagee, AL in 1939 but he didn't record in the south until his only LP. He started his recording career as "Johnny R" cutting the excellent deep ballad It's All Over for Strike around 1966/7. I'm pretty sure this was recorded in New York listening to it - check out that big horn section for example, the drummer and twin piano/organ keyboards, they all scream Big Apple to me. Also Johnny is described as "living in Brooklyn" on the LP sleeve. In any event Johnny sets out his stall on this side as a prime balladeer with a superb performance.
By 1968 he had signed with Okeh and the three 45s that were released (as well as at least one killer ballad that wasn't) contained sides that were southern soul of the highest class - most of them coming from Johnny's own pen. His first Okeh was produced by Detroit's Mike Terry, although I'd put money on Johnny's vocal being added in New York, and the Northern fans like "Gone But Not Forgotten" very much. Their enthusiasm has pushed the price of this 45 up so much that people have effectively been priced out of hearing the flip I Need Your Love So Bad. This is a really good minor keyed ballad on which Robinson does his usual class vocal, screaming out the refrain over a cooing girl chorus and some very helpful playing from the usual Motor City crew of musicians.
But the pinnacle of the Okeh 45s was the next release featuring the coupling of Poor Man" and When A Man Cries". These two sides feature some really impassioned wailing from Johnny who sounds almost unhinged by the plight of the poor man and almost as desperate as he describes what happens when a man cries. The understated productions on these two sides from Ted Cooper make the 45 one of the best double sided deep records ever made. Absolutely essential.
Robinson's final Okeh release doesn't really match up to the first two. The rhythm tracks were cut in Philly but neither a rather mawkish "Green Green Grass Of Home" nor a funky "You've Been With Him" suited Johnny's style.
In 1969 he was in Memphis recording tracks which would form the wonderful "Memphis High" set with Willie Mitchell. And it is clear from the first sides released that Johnny was completely at home in the Hi sound setting - and this isn't really surprising as he'd always been a southern styled singer throughout his career. Also who wouldn't feel at home with one of the greatest producers and finest sets of musicians in the US? Among the best tracks were the superb deep soul of his own Don't Take It So Hard and George Jackson's "Nothing Can Touch This Love" on which Johnny's wholeheartedly committed vocals are outstanding. The gospel fire of "God Is Love" makes even a stone cold atheist like me think twice about religion such is the impact it has. Sadly thanks to Epic's poor marketing the LP vanished without trace at the time, but over the years as southern soul enthusiasts raved about it the album has become a highly sought after item.
Johnny's final 45 would appear to be as lead singer of Que Sunrise whose Friday 13th sounds so much like a straight gospel number it might as well be one - despite the secular lyrics. A wonderful way to end a great recording career for sure but how sad it should be so short. Can anybody help with further news of this wonderful singer? Did he go into church music?
It's all over / The champ ~ STRIKE 1005 (1966?) (as JOHNNY R)
Gone but not forgotten / I need your love so bad ~ OKEH 7307 (1968)
Poor man / When a man cries ~ OKEH 7317 (1968)
You've been with him / Green green grass of home ~ OKEH 7328 (1969)
Funky feet / Don't take it so hard ~ EPIC 10557 (1969)
Kansas City / God is love ~ EPIC 10578 (1970)
Lady doctor / Person to person ~ EPIC 10607 (1970)
Friday the thirteenth / A storm brewing ~ JUST SUNSHINE 504 (1973) (as QUE SUNRISE)
Memphis high ~ EPIC (1970)
1. There is a Japanese CD of "Memphis High".
2. Prince Johnny Robinson is a different artist.