Saturday, 10 June 2017
Pop/Power Pop/Country/Doo- Wop ??? Mark Johnson - Mark Johnson & The Wild Alligators 2005 mp3@320
WHY I JOINED A CULT LISTENING TO MARK JOHNSON
by Vincent Collazo
IN 1978 LYNN SAMUELS had a free-form radio show on WBAI called “Part of the Act”—between discursive monologues and lively discourse with her audience she played music, and the most-featured artist was an extraordinary talent named Mark Johnson.
It doesn’t take much to fall in love with his music—ethereal and familiar, Mark Johnson sings from and of the human heart: his lyrics describe love’s extensive permutations, with music to match these rich emotions. The music I heard on Lynn Samuels’ show was not available in record stores—at the time Mark Johnson had one album, Years, released in 1972 on Vanguard, that was out of print. I kinda freaked out, but recorded on cassette from the radio, eventually compiling about thirty minutes of his music.
When I went to see him in concert I found a wild man, a performer who sang each song as if his life depended on it. The experience of hearing Mark Johnson at Folk City, standing less than ten feet from me, in black pants, white shirt, tight cowboy boots, crying/screaming/spitting out the words to his song “Noreen,” gives me chills a quarter century later.
Lynn Samuels left WBAI, Folk City closed, and ultimately Mark Johnson stopped performing at The Other End, Kenny’s Castaways, and the Speakeasy. I lost track of him and was left with my half hour cassette, which began to deteriorate from overuse. I dubbed copies to play and kept the original as my “master tape.” Grateful to have these few gems, I despaired of ever getting more.
Mark Johnson resurfaced in 1992 with a CD, 12 in a Room, on his own label, Tabula Rasa Records. This is Mark at his best—in the “studio” (a small apartment above the Cornelia Street Café) with himself at virtually all the instruments and vocals—mixing and matching, using the musical genius RCA Records recognized when they offered him a contract as an artist and producer at age 20, when he walked in off the street with a homemade demo. (Years, the album from this time period, is a classic which holds up amazingly well some thirty-five years later—it is mind-boggling that this sophisticated music came from someone barely out of his teens).
After the spurt of activity that came with 12 in a Room, I once again lost touch with Mark and his music. Another decade passed before I came upon him in cyberspace through his website http://www.mark-johnson.com, where I discovered he had a new album, Last Night on the Roller Coaster. Is it better than 12 in a Room? Maybe, but mostly I’d say it’s different. 12 in a Room is a bunch of hits nicely strung together whereas Last Night feels more like a themed album, one song flowing into the next with musical logic. On this CD one can hear the many musical styles Johnson effortlessly embraces: to my ears “Suddenly Sunshine” evokes George Harrison, portions of “So Wonderful” are reminiscent of 50’s doo-wop, in “Coney Island Night” I hear shades of Billy Joel at his best, but all of the songs, whatever tradition/influence/homage they may suggest, have the distinct stamp of Mark Johnson. Throughout this musical journey Johnson’s voice changes with each song—he’s as comfortable with a sweet ballad as with a hard-rocking tune, and everything in between.
Johnson is currently working on a new CD, which must be a daunting task since he’s set the bar so high with his previous releases—there are no “throwaways” in any of his four major albums; even songs which might sound “lite” at first, gain depth upon repeated listens.
Recently Johnson has supplemented his oeuvre with songs for companion CD’s for the Disney movies Finding Nemo and Cars. His songs continue to be recorded by other artists—if he’s the best-kept secret in pop, he’s well known within the industry. Mark Johnson’s success, while substantial, has never matched his talent; he awaits “discovery” by a larger audience—meanwhile he has attained cult status, and I, for one, happily, giddily, ineluctably joined the cult.
This is one of the rare articles i found about Marc Johnson. This is also the only album i know by M.J.
Give it a try, this album souinds real interesting. Here are a lot of musical influences and this guy sounds real.