Thursday, February 6, 2014

Johnny Bristol - NC Music Hall of Fame

This is the first of a new series of postings I will be doing about the artists who are in the NC Music Hall of Fame in Kannapolis, N.C.  The music which has emanated out of North Carolina over the tears is much varied and covers every musical genre you can possibly think of; from Opera to Funk and everything in between. I plan on doing posts about these artists to commemorate their birthdays. Mr. Bristol’s big day was Monday February 3rd.

Johnny Bristol is a perfect example of the diversity of the music which has originated in North Carolina over the past 100 years. Born February 3, 1939 Mr. Bristol spent his early years living in Morganton, the county seat of Burke County, in the mountains near Hickory. The town boasts quite a few famous people. In addition to Johnny Bristol there is Etta Baker, known for her version of the Piedmont Blues, a separate genre unto itself. In addition to the likes of Senator Sam Ervin, the town also lays claim to Frankie Silver who was the first woman ever hanged in North Carolina. On the other end of the spectrum, the town is also the home of Paige Summers, the Penthouse Pet of the Year for 1998. Now, that's what I call diversity!

Mr. Bristol is mostly remembered as a musician-songwriter as well as having been a producer for Motown during its most active period, from the late 1960s to the 1970’s. His own hits include the one above, which is kind of an Al Green thing from 1974, to the song he wrote about his home town of Morganton, which can be viewed here;

His first real musical success came in Detroit, where he had landed after serving in the Air Force in the late 1950’s. As part of the duo Johnny and Jackey; aka Jackey Beavers; they recorded about half a dozen songs on two different independent labels, both owned by members of Berry Gordy’s family. While these records were only successful in the Mid-west, they were instrumental in opening the doors for him at Motown. By 1965 he was working at Motown as a songwriter and producer. He was the guy behind the mixing board for such hits as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love”.

This was probably the most creative period of Mr. Bristol’s career. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold; as in gold records. Wikipedia lists the following records among his accomplishments;

The Velvelettes "These Things Keep Me Loving You" (1966); Gladys Knight & the Pips' "I Don't Want To Do Wrong" (1971) and "Daddy Could Swear, I Declare" (1972); and Jr. Walker & the All Stars, who charted with a number of Bristol-written singles and albums, including "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" (1969), "Gotta Hold On To This Feeling" (1970), "Way Back Home" (1971) and "Walk in the Night" (1971). Mr. Bristol even recorded Jermaine Jackson's first solo record, "That's How Love Goes" in 1972.

In addition to all the above, he was the last producer to work with The Supremes and The Miracles, before they both lost their lead singers. “Someday We’ll Be Together” is actually a cover version of Mr. Bristol’s single with Jackey in 1961.His voice is even the male response on the final released version by the Supremes.

In 1973 he was briefly associated with CBS Records as a producer, but the label seemed to be unenthusiastic about his artists, which included Boz Scaggs and also Johnny Mathis. By 1974 he was with MGM, where he seemed to get his “second wind”. He was now ready to emerge as an artist on his own.

With MGM he recorded 2 albums and placed several singles in the charts. "Hang on in There Baby"  was released in 1974 and hit #8 in the US on the Pop charts; #2 on the  R&B charts;  and even enjoyed success overseas, placing #3 in the UK. "You and I",  "Leave My World" and "Do It To My Mind" followed one after the other in 1974, 75 and 1976. In 1975 he was nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist.

After leaving MGM he went on to record with Atlantic Records, a relationship which saw him working with some of the artists he had worked with at CBS. In particular he was instrumental in creating Boz Scaggs “breakout” album “Slow Dancer” in 1974. He also produced the Tom Jones album “Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do” which contained 5 cover versions of Mr. Bristol’s songs.

By the 1980’s he was firmly embedded in the European market with such artists as Ami Stewart. He continued recording through the early 1990’s, making music with Earth Wind and Fire, as well as a recording with his daughter Shannon Bristol. He even enjoyed some degree of success in the Japanese market at the time. Good music knows no borders.

Mr. Bristol passed away at his home in Michigan on March 21, 2004. He died of natural causes at the age of 65. Although some would not consider him to be a major artist; or superstar; he was, and continues to be well regarded in musical circles. NC Music Hall of Fame is pleased to include this artist among its inductees.

For more on the NC Music Hall of Fame use this link;

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