THE SATURDAY MORNING SONG CHRONICLES
-- Paul B Allen III: August 3, 2019 (with added data)
-- Originally posted May 2019
AUGIE JOHNSON / SIDE EFFECT
Have you ever heard of Augie Johnson? Chances are you have not. Have you ever heard his voice? Chances are, you have.
If you have ever listened to Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, James Ingram, Dolly Parton, Ricky Nelson, Kenny Rodgers, Keith Moon, Kenny Rankin, Esther Phillips, Nancy Wilson, Bill Withers, Chico Hamilton, Warren G, Boz Skaggs, Quincy Jones, Barry Manilow, Taj Mahal, Billy Cobham, Country Joe McDonald, Rick Dees, Morris Day, The Brothers Johnson, Helen Baylor, Willie Bobo, Ronnie Laws, Wayne Henderson and the Next Crusade, Pleasure, Hiroshima, and the group he founded, Side Effect, then you have heard the voice and some of the songs of Augie Johnson.
Augie was one of the most prolific and sought-after background vocalist and background arrangers to ever grace a recording studio. Have you ever heard the Boz Skaggs song, “Lowdown?” Who could ever forget “Ooh, Ooh, I wonder wonder wonder wonder who?” This gorgeous and harmonically complex vocal background hook made that song a hit. Augie wrote it and was a primary BG vocalist (background vocalist) performing on the song.
And, the first solo hit (and solo gold record) for Michael Jackson? That song was "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough," and if you have ever heard that song, then you also heard Augie singing backgrounds.
Augie Johnson swam with the "Big Fish" from the very beginning. Notice the picture in the photo gallery to your right. Yes, that is indeed the gorgeous and iconic Marilyn Monroe standing and listening to a very young Augie Johnson and his choir mates!
Augie was also a great lead vocalist and an excellent songwriter. And, he was my true friend and brother.
In the last Saturday Morning Song Chronicles, I shared with you the fact that under the direction of Johnny Otis (and an awesome arranger named Frank Kavelin), I recorded the first four songs I ever wrote right there in Johnny’s professional studio.
Well, one thing always leads to another. Frank (who was mentored by Andre Previn), and whose father, Al Kavelin, was responsible for putting out one of the greatest novelty records of the 50s called “Alley Oop,” liked how our recording session turned out. He liked it so much that he called a friend of his: Wayne Henderson of The Crusaders (one of the premier Jazz bands in the world). He knew that Wayne was putting together his own production company, called At Home Productions and that he was signing groups and looking for new material for them. Frank told Wayne about me, and Wayne invited my father and me to his home.
When we arrived at the appointed time, we found we were not Wayne’s only guests. Already sitting there were four very cool looking people. There was powerhouse singer Louis Patton, the gifted Greg Matta with a vocal range that is out of this world, the drop dead gorgeous Sylvia Nabors whose voice I have always loved, and last but not least, Augie Johnson, the highly charismatic and super-talented leader of this group called Side Effect. You could look at them and see they were already stars, or would be shortly.
Augie Johnson was also a very decisive man, and his word was bond. Wayne played my four-song demo record for all to hear, and when the third song rolled around, Augie said immediately, “We’ll do this one.” That was it. End of discussion. My mouth dropped open. “This guy doesn’t mess around,” I thought to myself. I also thought, “It just can’t be this easy.” But, a few months later, the song Augie heard and liked, “Baby Love (Love You Baby)” was on the album named Side Effect, the group’s first album for Fantasy Records.
This began a lifetime of songwriting collaborations between Augie and me. We wrote some beautiful songs together.
I shared the following personal story about Augie with Augie’s daughter, Tishema, and she gave me her permission to share it with you.
We hear stories about musical artists all the time: the good, the bad, and the sensational. But, here is a story that highlights something about an artist that is rarely discussed: his character. In this case, Augie Johnson’s character.
At my first taste of success, (“Baby Love, Love You Baby” and shortly thereafter, “Always There”), I quit my job and did nothing but write music with Augie and Wayne.
Wayne hooked up both Augie and me with Martin Cohen, one of the finest entertainment attorneys in Hollywood. He represented Frank Zappa and The Crusaders, and Tom Waits, and several other music heavyweights. And now, he also represented one flea-weight with the last name of Allen. I knew I was lucky to be there.
Anyway, even after a year, and a hit song like “Always There” (which Side Effect knocked out of the park), the songwriting royalties had not started to come in yet, and I was going broke fast. That’s what happens when you don’t have a grasp of the “business” end of “the music business.”
So, the time came when I had to bitterly return to a regular 9-5, as I was married and had a young son to care for.
I dropped off the map so far as music was concerned. I was frustrated and disappointed. Again, I had no one to blame but myself. Nobody led me to believe that I was going to be rich in a couple of months! No one encouraged me to quit my job! Had I studied the business end of the music business, I would have known that it takes some time for royalties to come in, and especially international royalties.
The bottom line is that I didn't connect with anyone in music for several years.
Finally, I went to a NAMM Show (the biggest music convention in the USA and one of the biggest in the world, possibly second only to MIDEM held annually in France). The NAMM Show was held in Los Angeles. Once there, out of the thousands and thousands of people milling around, the very first person I ran into was Augie Johnson!
Our reunion was warm and heartfelt. Augie invited me over to his home after the NAMM show. When I arrived, I saw that the latest female member of Side Effect, Miki Howard, was now Augie’s “significant other.” (Miki has sung more of my songs than any other female artist.) Augie and I sat on the sofa eating chilled fruit and catching up. As I was about to leave, Augie said, "I have something for you." He left the room for only a moment and came back with three envelopes in his hand. He gave them to me. He said, "This is royalty money from the attorney's office. They didn't know how to get ahold of you. I told them that I knew I would see you one of these days, so they gave the checks to me to give to you when I saw you."
This was years after the checks had been issued, and he had hung onto them for all that time! He knew exactly where they were, and he was not going to let anything keep him from getting that money to me.
As much as I loved Augie already, that just shot my love for him over the moon. What a good, loyal, and trustworthy friend he was.
I thought that for the attorney to give Augie my checks based solely on Augie’s word that he would get them to me also spoke volumes about the attorney’s trust in Augie.
Decades later, Augie and I were in the middle of his latest CD, working on a great new song together when he suddenly passed away. I was devastated. Augie was my brother and song writing partner since the time of our very early twenties.
I miss my friend and brother greatly. I was blessed to have him in my life, and his daughter and I reminisce about the great Augie Johnson often.
If you will navigate to my "Songs By Other Artists" pages on this website, sprinkled amongst others, you will find the songs Augie and I wrote as a team. All the Side Effect songs here are songs that Augie and I primarily wrote together, with the exception of "Always There" which I co-wrote with Ronnie Laws and William Jeffrey, and "Baby Love (Love You Baby)," which I wrote solo.
However, if you look at the videos below, I am sharing three songs. The first song is "Always There," Side Effect's signature song, as they performed it for the very first time on the iconic TV show, Soul Train.
The second song I will always feel is the most beautiful of the songs Augie and I wrote together, and it features Augie doing the lead on the song called "Catch It Fore It Falls." His voice is so smooth that it is even calming to the ear.
"Baby Love (Love You Baby)," my first song performed by Side Effect is the third video.
Enjoy, as the Saturday Morning Song Chronicles salutes one of the best friends I have ever had in my life, Mr. Augie Johnson, musical giant and human extraordinaire.
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