While never long in the spotlight, Al Johnson has quietly created some very memorable Soul music for himself and others over a nearly forty year career, and has developed a small but loyal following over that period as a top notch songwriter, singer and musician.
Johnson first scored as the lead singer of the HYPERLINK "http://www.soultracks.com/the_unifics.htm" Unifics, a group formed at Howard University in Washington , D.C. which had a big hit with "The Court of Love." After another minor hit, "The Beginning of My End," the group split and Johnson began a 30 year string as a session musician, arranger and producer.
Johnson next formed the short lived group Positive Change and also recorded a minor solo album, Peaceful, in 1978. He then worked with producer extraordinaire, Norman Connors, providing guest vocals on Connors' Take It To the Limit album. Connors returned the favor, producing Johnson's major label debut, Back For More, a gem of an album that included a number of new cuts plus re-recordings of a few songs from Peaceful. The title cut from the album, a duet with Jean Carn, (later covered by Tavares) became an underground Soul classic. The rest of the album was wonderful, especially the upbeat "I've Got My Second Wind" and the beautiful ballads "You Are My Personal Angel" and "Peaceful." And while initial sales of the album did not merit a follow-up, the disc became a cult classic that is still considered by many as one of the great soul albums of the early 80s..
Johnson spent most of the 80s and 90s continuing to provide session help for other artists, including the HYPERLINK "http://www.soultracks.com/whispers.htm" Whispers, Roberta Flack and HYPERLINK "http://www.soultracks.com/peabo_bryson.htm" Peabo Bryson. Then, in 1999, he went back to the studio to record his first album in nearly two decades, My Heart Is An Open Book, on the small Clout label. The album found him in excellent voice (maybe even better than in his youth) and included a number of solid cuts that updated the classic soul sound of Johnson's first album and included clear musical references to some of Marvin Gaye's later work. Especially notable on the album were the title cut, "Here's Looking At You" and the smooth midtempo, "Tranquility." It again developed for Johnson a small but loyal following (especially in Europe) and again demonstrated that, while Johnson is known mostly for his support work for other artists, he has both the songwriting and vocal talent of a great solo artist. His albums, though hard to find, are worth seeking out.
Johnson continued working into the 21st century, performing on Jeff Majors' 2002 album Sacred 4 You. In late 2004 the Unifics reunited and began playing again in the DC area. They also released a solid album, Unifics Return. To read more about the Unifics, HYPERLINK "http://www.soultracks.com/the_unifics.htm" click here.
by Chris Rizik of Soul Tracks