Monday, July 30, 2007

The Nabob of Sob

Frank Sinatra was dubbed ‘the Sultan of Swoon’ Johnnie Ray became ‘the Nabob of Sob’. His emotion-laden performances proved very popular and his ability to seemingly cry at will gave him a decided gimmick. His singing style was an important bridge between the crooners and rock and roll. Many have made the link between Frank and Elvis through Johnnie Ray. If Sinatra had been subtly sexual Johnnie was at the other end of the scale, but it drew a similar reaction from the teens in the audience.

"One Saturday morning in July 1953 I sold my Stamp collection for £3.10.0d and went to a record shop in Anerley. I bought a second-hand wind-up gramophone and a box of needles for £2.10.0d, and my first 78rpm records. Les Paul and Mary Ford's 'The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise'’, featuring Les Paul's wonderful multi-tracked guitar playing and one by Johnnie Ray." - Bill Wyman

He was born in Dallas, Oregon on 10 January 1927 and as a child became deaf in one ear. He began performing in the Detroit area when he was around twenty years old. Columbia signed him in 1951 and released ‘Whiskey and Gin’ on OKeh, a label normally restricted to black and R&B artists. His second record, ‘Cry’ credited to Johnnie Ray and The Four Lads, became a massive worldwide hit topping the Billboard chart for eleven weeks. Even the b-side, ‘The Little White Cloud That Cried’, made No.2 on the US chart. Over the next five years his records sold in large numbers, without ever reaching the dizzy heights of ‘Cry’.

He appeared as a singer turned priest in the 1954 film, There’s No Business Like Show Business and continued to find chart success with his gospel influenced songs. By 1958 rumours about Johnnie’s sexuality and his drug taking affected his popularity in the USA. Alcoholism was a severe blow for Johnnie in the sixties and from then on his work was limited to cabaret and nostalgia shows, although in Britain he still had a strong following. He died aged sixty-three in Los Angeles from liver failure in February 1990.

The picture of Johnnie is from Philip Townsend's wonderful archive of photos that can be found here.


Heather Yaxley said...

Small world moment - my dad and I researched Johnnie Ray last week after I played a track by Van Morrison and Tom Jones, which mentioned Johnnie Ray. He wasn't someone I knew, but thanks to YouTube, all these people can come back to life. We couldn't find video of Cry itself though.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.