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Johnny Ace

Johnny Ace

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Johnny Ace born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis is a city in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers....

, was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 rhythm and blues
Rhythm and blues
Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated to R&B, is a genre of popular African American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a...

 singer. He scored a string of hit singles in the mid-1950s before dying of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Career


Alexander's father was a preacher in Tennessee. After serving in the navy during the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

, Alexander joined Adolph Duncan's Band as a pianist. He then joined the B. B. King
B. B. King
Riley B. King , known by the stage name B.B. King, is an American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter.Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at No.3 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. According to Edward M...

 band. Soon King departed for Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 and vocalist Bobby Bland
Bobby Bland
Robert Calvin Bland better known as Bobby "Blue" Bland, is an American singer of blues and soul. He is an original member of the Beale Streeters, and is sometimes referred to as the "Lion of the Blues"...

 joined the army. Alexander took over vocal duties and renamed the band The Beale Streeters, also taking over King's WDIA
WDIA
WDIA is an AM radio station in Memphis, Tennessee, in the United States of America. Its radio frequency is 1070 kHz. In 1962 it became the first U.S. radio station programmed by African-Americans, though its ownership was white.-History:...

 radio show.

Becoming "Johnny Ace", he signed to Duke Records
Duke Records
Duke Records was an American record label, started in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1952 by David James Mattis and Bill Fitzgerald, owners of Tri-State Recording Company. Their first release was Roscoe Gordon singing "Hey Fat Girl", issued on Duke R-1, later amended to R-101.After forming a partnership...

 (originally a Memphis label associated with WDIA) in 1952. Urbane 'heart-ballad' "My Song
My Song (song)
"My Song" is the 1952 debut single by Johnny Ace. Backed by The Beale Streeters, "My Song" was the first of three number one's on the R&B chart for Johnny Ace.-References:...

," his first recording, topped the R&B charts for nine weeks in September. ("My Song" was covered in 1968 by Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin
Aretha Louise Franklin is an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Although known for her soul recordings and referred to as The Queen of Soul, Franklin is also adept at jazz, blues, R&B, gospel music, and rock. Rolling Stone magazine ranked her atop its list of The Greatest Singers of All...

, on the flipside of "See Saw".)

Ace began heavy touring, often with Willa Mae "Big Mama" Thornton
Big Mama Thornton
Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton was an American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. She was the first to record the hit song "Hound Dog" in 1952. The song was #1 on the Billboard R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953. The B-side was "They Call Me Big Mama," and the single sold almost two million...

. In the next two years, he had eight hits in a row, including "Cross My Heart," "Please Forgive Me," "The Clock," "Yes, Baby," "Saving My Heart for You," and "Never Let Me Go." In December, 1954 he was named the Most Programmed Artist Of 1954 after a national DJ poll organized by U.S. trade weekly Cash Box
Cash Box magazine
Cashbox magazine was a weekly publication devoted to the music and coin-operated machine industries in the USA which was published from July 1942 to November 16, 1996...

.

Ace's recordings sold very well for those times. Early in 1955, Duke Records announced that the three 1954 Johnny Ace recordings, along with Thornton's "Hound Dog", had sold more than 1,750,000 records.

Death


After touring for a year, Ace had been performing at the City Auditorium in Houston, Texas
Houston, Texas
Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and the largest city in the state of Texas. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a population of 2.1 million people within an area of . Houston is the seat of Harris County and the economic center of , which is the ...

 on Christmas
Christmas
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, liturgically closing the Advent season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days...

 1954. During a break between sets, he was playing with a .22 cal revolver. Members of his band said he did this often, sometimes shooting at roadside signs from their car.

It was widely reported that Ace killed himself playing Russian roulette
Russian roulette
Russian roulette is a potentially lethal game of chance in which participants place a single round in a revolver, spin the cylinder, place the muzzle against their head and pull the trigger...

. Big Mama Thornton
Big Mama Thornton
Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton was an American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. She was the first to record the hit song "Hound Dog" in 1952. The song was #1 on the Billboard R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953. The B-side was "They Call Me Big Mama," and the single sold almost two million...

's bass player Curtis Tillman, however, who witnessed the event, said, "I will tell you exactly what happened! Johnny Ace had been drinking and he had this little pistol he was waving around the table and someone said ‘Be careful with that thing…’ and he said ‘It’s okay! Gun’s not loaded…see?’ and pointed it at himself with a smile on his face and ‘Bang!’ – sad, sad thing. Big Mama ran outta that dressing room yelling ‘Johnny Ace just killed himself!"

Thornton said in a written statement (included in the book The Late Great Johnny Ace) that Ace had been playing with the gun, but not playing Russian roulette. According to Thornton, Ace pointed the gun at his girlfriend and another woman who were sitting nearby, but did not fire. He then pointed the gun toward himself. The gun went off, shooting him in the side of the head.

Ace's funeral was on January 2, 1955, at Memphis' Clayborn Temple AME
AME
Ame, AME, or AmE may refer to* Anomalous Microwave Emission* Amé, a soft drink* Adaptive multithreaded encryption* African Methodist Episcopal Church* African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church* AME Accounting Software...

 church. It was attended by an estimated 5000 people.

"Pledging My Love
Pledging My Love
"Pledging My Love" is a blues ballad. It was written by Ferdinand Washington and Don Robey and published in 1954.The song's theme is captured in the title and the opening lines:-Johnny Ace:The most popular recording of the song was done by Johnny Ace...

" became a posthumous R&B #1 hit for ten weeks beginning February 12, 1955. As Billboard bluntly put it, Ace's death "created one of the biggest demands for a record that has occurred since the death of Hank Williams just over two years ago." His single sides were compiled and released as The Johnny Ace Memorial Album.

Edit: According to Nick Tosches
Nick Tosches
Nick Tosches is an American journalist, novelist, biographer, and poet of Albanian and Italian descent.- Life :After different odd-jobs, Tosches started writing with poetry and rock-'n'-roll magazines, including Creem, Fusion, and Rolling Stone.Tosches' second book, a biography of Jerry Lee Lewis...

' book Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll, Johnny Ace actually shot himself with a .32 pistol, not a .22, and it happened only a little more than an hour after he had bought a brand new 1955 Oldsmobile
Oldsmobile
Oldsmobile was a brand of American automobile produced for most of its existence by General Motors. It was founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. In its 107-year history, it produced 35.2 million cars, including at least 14 million built at its Lansing, Michigan factory...

.

ISBN 0-684-18149-5 (Paperback)(c) 1984 pg. 136 Chapter - "Number One With a Bullet"

Tributes


Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, film director and painter. He has been a major and profoundly influential figure in popular music and culture for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler and a seemingly...

 and Joan Baez
Joan Baez
Joan Chandos Baez is an American folk singer, songwriter, musician and a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace and environmental justice....

 performed "Never Let Me Go" on the Rolling Thunder Revue Tour late in 1975.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King"....

 covered "Pledging My Love" on his last studio session in 1976. The song appeared on the Moody Blue
Moody Blue
Moody Blue is the final studio album by Elvis Presley. The album was a mixture of live and studio work, and included tracks from Presley's final studio recording sessions in 1976, including Moody Blue, a previously published hit song, and Way Down, which became a hit song after Presley's death less...

album in 1977 at the time of his death.

Paul Simon
Paul Simon
Paul Frederic Simon is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist.Simon is best known for his success, beginning in 1965, as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, with musical partner Art Garfunkel. Simon wrote most of the pair's songs, including three that reached number one on the US singles...

 wrote and performed the song "The Late Great Johnny Ace
The Late Great Johnny Ace
"The Late Great Johnny Ace" is a song by Paul Simon, which appears on his 1983 Hearts and Bones album.-History:The song initially sings of the rhythm and blues singer Johnny Ace, who is said to have shot himself in a game of Russian roulette in 1954...

", in which a boy, upon hearing of the death of Ace, orders a photograph of the deceased singer, describing: "It came all the way from Texas / With a sad and simple face / And they signed it on the bottom / From the Late Great Johnny Ace."

David Allan Coe
David Allan Coe
David Allan Coe is an American outlaw country music singer who achieved popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. He has written and performed over 280 original songs throughout his career...

 covered "Pledging My Love
Pledging My Love
"Pledging My Love" is a blues ballad. It was written by Ferdinand Washington and Don Robey and published in 1954.The song's theme is captured in the title and the opening lines:-Johnny Ace:The most popular recording of the song was done by Johnny Ace...

", introducing the song with his own recollections of hearing the news of Ace's death.

Johnny Ace is also namechecked by Root Boy Slim
Root Boy Slim
Root Boy Slim was the stage name assumed by American musician, Foster MacKenzie III. Born in Asheville, North Carolina, he was raised in suburban Maryland, a few minutes from D.C. after his family relocated there...

 in "House Band in Hell" as well as by Dash Rip Rock
Dash Rip Rock
Dash Rip Rock is a New Orleans based rock band built around the songs of singer-guitarist Bill Davis.The band is a legendary live powerhouse, often being credited with founding the musical genre known as "Country Punk." The New York Times said Dash Rip Rock is "the kind of band that provides a...

 in the song "Johnny Ace".

Ace's song "Pledging My Love" appears in the 1973 Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese
Martin Charles Scorsese is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film historian. In 1990 he founded The Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation, and in 2007 he founded the World Cinema Foundation...

 film Mean Streets
Mean Streets
Mean Streets is a 1973 drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Scorsese and Mardik Martin. The film stars Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. It was released by Warner Bros. on October 2, 1973...

and John Carpenter
John Carpenter
John Howard Carpenter is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, editor, composer, and occasional actor. Although Carpenter has worked in numerous film genres in his four-decade career, his name is most commonly associated with horror and science fiction.- Early life :Carpenter was born...

's 1983 movie Christine, based on Stephen King
Stephen King
Stephen Edwin King is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy fiction. His books have sold more than 350 million copies and have been adapted into a number of feature films, television movies and comic books...

's novel. The song also appears in the Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara is an American film screenwriter and director. He is best known as an independent filmmaker of such films as The Driller Killer , Ms. 45 , King of New York , Bad Lieutenant and The Funeral .-Early life:Ferrara was born in the Bronx of Italian and Irish descent...

 film Bad Lieutenant
Bad Lieutenant
Bad Lieutenant is a 1992 crime-drama film directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Harvey Keitel as the eponymous "bad lieutenant". The screenplay was written by actress-model Zoë Lund. She also played a small role in the film. Lund had been discovered by Ferrara and had starred in his earlier film, Ms...

. The song also appears in the movie "Back To the Future" It is playing in the background of the scene with Marty and his mother in the yellow car. It is, however not credited.

The Teen Queens song "Eddie My Love" was originally titled "Johnny My Love" and was written in Johnny's memory.

the Swiss Singer Polo Hofer and the Schmetterband wrote the Song ``Johnny Ace`` in 1985 - it was released on the album Giggerig.

Dave Alvin
Dave Alvin
Dave Alvin , is a guitarist, singer and songwriter. He has been one of the leading proponents of 'roots' or 'American' music, bringing together elements of rock-and-roll, blues, rural and tejano music....

's 2011 release, Eleven Eleven, contains a song describing his death, called "Johnny Ace is Dead."

Singles


Original singles issued by Duke Records
Duke Records
Duke Records was an American record label, started in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1952 by David James Mattis and Bill Fitzgerald, owners of Tri-State Recording Company. Their first release was Roscoe Gordon singing "Hey Fat Girl", issued on Duke R-1, later amended to R-101.After forming a partnership...

  • "My Song
    My Song (song)
    "My Song" is the 1952 debut single by Johnny Ace. Backed by The Beale Streeters, "My Song" was the first of three number one's on the R&B chart for Johnny Ace.-References:...

    " / "Follow the Rule" (1952)
  • "Cross My Heart" / "Angel" (1953)
  • "The Clock" / "Aces Wild" (1953)
  • "Midnight Hours Journey" / "Trouble and Me" (1954)
  • "Saving My Love For You" / "Yes, Baby" (duet with Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton) (1954)
  • "Please Forgive Me" / "You've Been Gone So Long" (1954)
  • "Never Let Me Go" / "Burley Cutie" [Instrumental] (1954)
  • "Pledging My Love
    Pledging My Love
    "Pledging My Love" is a blues ballad. It was written by Ferdinand Washington and Don Robey and published in 1954.The song's theme is captured in the title and the opening lines:-Johnny Ace:The most popular recording of the song was done by Johnny Ace...

    " / "Anymore" (on 78rpm) / "No Money" (on 45rpm) (1955) #1 on U.S. R&B Chart for 10 weeks, peaked at #17 on U.S. Pop Chart
  • "Anymore" / "How Can You Be So Mean" (1955)
  • "So Lonely" / "I'm So Crazy, Baby" (1956)
  • "Don't You Know" / "I Still Love You So" (1956)

Albums


Studio albums and compilations containing only/mostly Johnny Ace material
  • Johnny Ace Memorial Album Duke (1955)
  • Johnny Ace: Pledging My Love Universal Special Products (1986)
  • Johnny Ace: The Complete Duke Recordings Geffen (2004)
  • Blues & Rhythm Series: The Chronological Johnny Ace 1951-1954 Classics (2005)
  • Johnny Ace: Essential Masters Burning Fire (digital download) (2008)

External links