It’s a bit of a minefield trying to write about “Johnny Soul” as there were several artists calling themselves by that name active in the 60s, and its difficult some 40 years later to untangle them all. But the guy I want to concentrate on here is Johnny Prior.
He was born in Augusta, GA in 1946 and took up the bass guitar in his teens. Johnny seems to have started his career singing for blues guitarist and band leader Percy Welch in Macon. His first 45 as a solo artist was for the local Soul Bag label with Welch providing the backing, being billed as “Little Johnny Soul”. His cut of the Chuck Willis blues ballad You’re Still My Baby is a good one, with Johnny showing off his gravelly tones with an intonation that owed a lot to Otis Redding.
And that was no wonder as Prior had met Otis in Macon and had gigged with the great man locally, and Otis’ distinctive vocal mannerisms had a huge influence in Georgia – and of course well beyond the state boundary as his success grew. Like so many other Georgia singers Prior also joined local garage owner and record man Bobby Smith.
Smith took Johnny down to Muscle Shoals for a session that he leased out to Shelby Singleton’s SSS International in Nashville. The first 45 featured a superb Margaret Lewis and Myra Smith country ballad I Almost Called Your Name which Johnny and Bobby turned into a sublime deep soul item. Behind the great Redding sounds from Johnny’s heartfelt vocal, the musicians at Fame put on their usual quality show with a horn section that is almost ludicrously echoed.
The second release had the excellent dance track “Lonely Man” with the strong southern funk of “Come And Get It”. Rather more ot my taste was the 45 that Smith leased out to the King subsidiary Federal, with whom he had very good contacts. Darling Darling I Love You is a tastefully melodic beat ballad chock full of classy things, like the guitarist, electric piano and horn arrangement. More Alabama magic.
And although that completes Johnny’s issued material there was a lovely surprise when the energetic and enterprising Jim Lancaster who bought Finley Duncan’s old studios in Valparaiso, FL found a tape of a session that Johnny had there. Jim included “Sang This Song” on his “Soul Resurrection Vol 1” CD and as ever Johnny’s singing is spot on and the backing to this bouncy uptempo number is almost as good as the guys across the way in Muscle Shoals.
These days Johnny is still singing his Otis flavoured songs back in Macon as one of the lead singers of the Playback The Band group who have regular highly regarded local gigs. Long may this state of affairs continue.
You’re still my baby / Tell me baby ~ SOUL BAG 309 (mid 60s)
Take me where the sun never shines / I almost called your name ~ SSS INT 763 (1969)
Come and get it / Lonely man ~ SSS INT 785 (1969)
Darling darling I love you / I want some ~ FEDERAL 12557 (1970)
1.The guy (guys?) on Sport, Townes, Pure Soul and Dome, aren’t this Johnny Soul. And the white singer on La Louisanne is somebody else altogether.
2. You can find "Lonely Man" on the Ace UK CD "Southern Soul Showcase" and "Darling Darling I Love You" on the CD "King Serious Soul Vol 2" from the same comapny. The previously inissued "Sang this song" is on "Soul Resurrection Vol 1 CD" (Southern Americana) - buy it!