Red Hot Hottentot - J.C. Johnson's Five Hot Sparks




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Published on Mar 8, 2012

Recorded in December of 1928 on the "Q.R.S." label #7064, and re-issued on the Swedish Gazell label. In 1929, J.C. Johnson took part as a musician in a collaboration between Italian-American guitarist Eddie Lang and the blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson, together with King Oliver and Hoagy Carmichael, which was given the name "Blind Willie Dunn & His Gin Bottle Four" in order to disguise the inter-racial nature of the group.Among the many artists in the 20s and 30s who sang and recorded his tunes were Ella Fitzgerald, whose first three recorded songs were co-written by Johnson, Connie Boswell, Mamie Smith, Clarence Williams, and Lonnie Johnson. J.C. also had his own band, J.C. Johnson and his Five Hot Sparks and played piano on many other artists' recordings.
In 1930, he wrote a flop Broadway musical, Change Your Luck, which starred Hamtree Harrington and Alberta Hunter. He had greater success, however, in writing songs for Bessie Smith - including "Black Mountain Blues", "Haunted House Blues", and "Empty Bed Blues" (later recorded by LaVern Baker) - and for Fats Waller - including "Believe It, Beloved", "Rhythm and Romance", and "You Stayed Away Too Long". Some of his songs in this period, including two hits for the Boswell Sisters, "That's How Rhythm Was Born" and "Don't Let Your Love Go Wrong", were written in collaboration with Nat Burton and George Whiting. He also worked with Fats Waller and Andy Razaf both separately and together, the three being co-credited for one of Waller's biggest hits, "The Joint Is Jumpin'". Johnson also wrote for Chick Webb's band, which at the time featured singer Ella Fitzgerald, his compositions including "Spinnin' the Webb", "Crying My Heart Out for You", and "You Can't Be Mine (And Someone Else's Too)".
During World War II, Johnson volunteered as an ambulance driver for the U.S. Army. During this time, he and Andy Razaf wrote "Yankee Doodle Tan", honoring the African American soldiers of World War Two, which appeared in the movie Hit Parade of 1943. After Waller's death in 1943, Johnson moved to St. Albans, Queens. He wrote for the Ink Spots and for a time acted as their manager. In the early 1950s, he created theatrical shows including The Year Round, which played in Harlem and was notable for being one of the first shows that Brock Peters performed in (under the name of George Fisher); and, in 1953, Jazz Train. After first playing in a night club at 49th and Broadway, it was taken to London's West End, where it was retooled into a large musical review, playing the Piccadilly Theatre and two command performances for the Queen, before touring England and Europe for three years.
Johnson then moved to the village of Wurtsboro in upstate New York. In the 1970s, he enjoyed the renewed interest in his songs, which appeared in many movies and revues and were recorded by artists such as Bette Midler, Bobby Short and Della Reese. He died in 1981 at the age of 84.

The lineage of BGM is a bit jumbled. What is known is that in 1949, John Engelbrekt created the label Gazell in Stockholm, Sweden, to distribute various jazz albums. In September 1950, he founded a jazz club in Stockholm, also called Gazell. In 1957, recordings from the club and by Engelbrekt were sold to the Scandinavian Record Company (Sonet Records), run by Gunnar Bergström and Sven Lindholm, while the rights to the label Gazell was sold to Dag Häggqvist, though other sources say Häggqvist started the label himself in 1950. Häggqvist sold Gazell to Sonet in 1960 and was run by Sam Charters until Sonet was acquired by Polygram in 1991. Häggqvist eventually retained the rights to the label again in 1993 when he formed Gazell Music AB.
In 2004, Häggqvist made a deal with Bonnier Music Publishing, a subsidiary of The Bonnier Group, for them to join forces. Since then, the companies have been called Bonnier Gazell Music.


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