Who was/is Johnny Bristol ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Hang On In There Baby
Hang On In There Baby
Despite producing a slew of smashes on other singers at Motown, notably Diana Ross & The Supremes’ ’69 blockbuster Someday We’ll Be Together, Johnny Bristol saw no future for himself there as a performer.
“When I took Berry ‘Someday We’ll Be Together,’ he said I was more valuable to him as a writer and producer,” said the late Bristol. “That was complimentary, but it didn’t do anything for my desire to sing.” So Johnny went elsewhere to become a star. “My contract had expired, and we were in the process of negotiating,” he said. “I guess we just agreed that we disagreed.” It would be at MGM Records that Bristol would score the #2 R&B/#8 pop smash Hang On In There Baby. “A great feeling,” he admitted. “I can’t even put it in words.”
Born February 3, 1939 in Morganton, North Carolina, Bristol came north while serving in the Air Force. “They sent me to Mount Clemens, Michigan,” he said. “I was about 18 years old.” The brother of The Four Tops’ Duke Fakir introduced Johnny to Berry’s sister Gwen, who co-owned Anna Records. Bristol and fellow Air Force recruit Jackey Beavers signed with Anna as a duo, debuting in 1959 with Let’s Go To A Movie Baby and encoring with Hoy Hoy. When Gwen and Harvey Fuqua formed the Tri-Phi label, Johnny & Jackey came along, cutting four more 45s including their original ’61 reading of Someday We’ll Be Together.
Tri-Phi was purchased by Gordy in 1963. “After that, I just became a staff writer for Motown,” said Bristol, who formed a production partnership there with Fuqua. “I made him an offer that whatever we did together, we’d split 50-50, even if I wrote something and he wasn’t in town,” said Bristol, who co-produced ’69 smashes by Jr. Walker (What Does It Take [To Win Your Love]) and Edwin Starr (Twenty-Five Miles) with Fuqua as well as many of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s beloved duet hits. Though he never had his own Motown release, Johnny’s voice was clearly audible in an uncredited duet role with Ross on Someday. Bristol didn’t even know he was being recorded.
Johnny hadn’t had a record of his own since 1963’s Baby Don’tcha Worry as half of Johnny & Jackey when he signed with MGM. “That was through my lawyer, Lee Phillips,” he said. Johnny proved he still had the vocal goods on Hang On In There Baby, his first MGM offering. “That was done in LA. with H.B. Barnum as arranger,” said Bristol, whose urgent vocal shimmered over sumptuous backing. There were more MGM hits—You And I in ’74, Leave My World the next year—and a #5 R&B entry in 1976 with Do It To My Mind for Atlantic on a list stretching into 1981.
Mainstream stardom wasn’t in the cards. “The problem there was still the same as all artists complain about: promotion, or lack of it,” he said. While at work on a gospel album, Johnny Bristol died March 21, 2004 at his home outside Detroit.
- Bill Dahl -