(October 26, 2013) We are sad to inform SoulTrackers that Al Johnson, a longtime SoulTracks favorite as a solo singer and member of the Unifics, has died at the age of 65.
Al's longtime friend, Jean Carn, posted the following today:
I received a message and text earlier from Jeff Majors saying that my Friend and favorite Voice, Al Johnson passed away this morning.
A Fan since"The Beginning of My End", I've been recalling the many, many times I've had the pleasure and privilege to share the mic and the stage and commiserate in the studio with Al.
Our first recording was "I'm Back For More" which has been sampled many times and was covered, beautifully by Bobby Womack and Lulu.
His orchestral arrangements for Artists like The Whispers, were beyond Genius.
Thanks Al, for composing the title tune for my Motown album, "Trust Me" and "We've Got Some Catching Up To Do".
Thank you Jeff Majors for bringing Al and me together for what has become our last onstage performance.
My Love and Prayers are with Al's beautiful Wife and Family.
Right now, I simply can't imagine Music existing without the Voice that lovingly brought us "The 23rd Psalm".
Al Johnson, your incomparable Spirit will live on in the gigantic space that you occupy in my heart.
Rest in Peace, Beloved Musical Warrior..
While never long in the spotlight, Al Johnson quietly created some very memorable Soul music for himself and others over a more than forty year career, and developed a small but loyal following over that period as a top notch songwriter, singer and musician.
Johnson first scored as the lead singer of the Unifics, a group formed at Howard University in Washington, D.C. which had a big hit with "The Court of Love." After another minor hit, "The Beginning of My End," the group split and Johnson began a long string as a session musician, songwriter, arranger and producer.
Johnson next formed the short lived group Positive Change and also recorded a solo album, Peaceful, in 1978. He then worked with producer extraordinaire, Norman Connors, providing guest vocals on Connors' Take It To the Limit album. Connors returned the favor, producing Johnson's major label debut, Back For More, a gem of an album that included a number of new cuts plus re-recordings of a few songs from Peaceful. The title cut from the album, a duet with Jean Carn (later covered by Tavares), became an underground Soul classic. The rest of the album was wonderful, especially the upbeat "I've Got My Second Wind" and the beautiful ballads "You Are My Personal Angel" and "Peaceful." And while initial sales of the album did not merit a follow-up, the disc became a cult classic that is still considered by many as one of the great soul albums of the early 80s. After years out of print, it was reissued on the SoulMusic.com label in 2011.
Johnson spent most of the 80s and 90s continuing to provide session help for other artists, including the Whispers, Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson. Then, in 1999, he went back to the studio to record his first album in nearly two decades, My Heart Is An Open Book, on the Clout label. The album found him in excellent voice (maybe even better than in his youth) and included a number of solid cuts that updated the classic soul sound of Johnson's earlier work. Especially notable on the album were the title cut, "Here's Looking At You" and the smooth midtempo, "Tranquility." It again developed for Johnson a small but loyal following (especially in Europe) and demonstrated that, while Johnson is known mostly for his support work for other artists, he has the both the songwriting and vocal talent of a great solo artist. His albums, though hard to find, are worth seeking out.
Johnson continued working into the 21st century, performing on Jeff Majors' 2002 album Sacred 4 You and, in late 2004, reuniting with the Unifics for gigs in the DC area. They also released a solid album, Unifics Return, an enjoyable reunion disc. Johnson was back in the studio in 2011 working on his first solo album in more than a decade, Maybe the Fire Isn't Out, an album that was never released. In Summer of that year he released the first single to radio, "It's Real."."
by Chris Rizik
Thanks to SoulTracker Gary for letting us know about this.