Jump to content

The Just Bros Story by Rob Moss

The Just Bros Story by Rob Moss

Site note - this article was originally published on Soul Source in full back in 2006, it was clipped approx 2012 at the author Rob Moss's request. Rob here in 2023, has just given us the ok to revive and re-publish this and others in full.
This is the first revived one and the plan is to revive the others on a weekly basis.


The Just Bros Story by Rob Moss

As a Northern Soul anthem, "Sliced Tomatoes" by the Just Brothers stands alone. It retains all the hallmarks of a classic Detroit instrumental – exuding pure excitement onto every dance floor, and transfixing the listener with infectious rhythm guitar licks and a rapid fire drum track.



When it was released in 1972 on Music Merchant records, the reaction across the land was immediate … and enduring. It became THE floor filler, almost without equal, and literally defined a music genre single handily.

To the keen ear, however, something was amiss. True aficionados struggled to understand how a record so gloriously mired in the 1960s, by 'sound', 'feel' and technique, could have come out yesterday! The full story of it's creation and development presents a fascinating insight into some of the more bizarre aspects of recording practice, and leads perfectly into a scrutiny of a group that had previously been shrouded in mystery.

Unlike most groups, the Just Brothers evolved more by accident than design. A teenage Frank Bryant had shown such musical promise and potential that local entrepreneur Don Davis had signed him to a producer's contract at the fledgling Thelma's Records as early as 1964.


IPB image


While his older brother Jimmy was completing military service, Frank joined the pool of session musicians in Detroit who were beginning to establish the city's reputation as a major music centre. Among his first recording credits were Gino Washington's "Gino is a coward" at Correctone, on his favoured bass guitar, and as a vocalist on J.J. Barnes' "Lonely no more" for Mickay's Records. He would share writing credits with J.J. on his "Deeper in love", and wrote "Let's party" for Steve Mancha, even though this was released as an instrumental called "Making up time" by the Holidays, and incorrectly credited to Don Davis.

Many other sessions followed, but it wasn't until a visit to Detroit's famed 20 Grand nightspot by legendary vocal group The Drifters that events took a fortunate turn for Frank and Jimmy Bryant.


IPB image
Winifred 'Johnny' Terry Second from the left

One of the group members, Winifred 'Johnny' Terry was a native Detroiter who wanted to record some of his own songs whilst in town, and needed local musicians to perform at the session. The Drifters' tour drummer was none other than 'Funk Brother' Richard 'Pistol' Allen, and it was to him that Terry gave the task of assembling the players. Allen approached fellow Funk Brothers' guitarist Eddie Willis and keyboard wiz Joe Hunter with Frank Bryant on bass guitar and Drifters backing band member Abdul Ali as a second guitar.


IPB image


The session was to take place at United Sound Studio, and would focus on a song called "Honey" for which Terry had assigned a local, since forgotten, vocalist. The backing accompaniment was completed, along with an instrumental track intended as the 'B' side, but the vocalist couldn't perform the song to Terry's satisfaction. It was at this point that Frank suggested that himself and his brother Jimmy, now back from the army, could easily sing the song, and convinced Johnny Terry to give them a chance. At the subsequent session they not only performed and recorded "Honey" to Terry's satisfaction, but recorded one of their own compositions, "Things will get better" and a song local writers Don Juan Mancha and Fred Bridges had created, under the pseudonym 'Freddie Pride', "She broke his heart".

Their first official release, as 'Just Bros' came in mid 1965 when the instrumental 'B' side previously intended for "Honey" was released on Lupine 001 as "Sliced tomatoes" accompanied by "Things will get better".

IPB image


Fascinating to note that the record was produced by 'The Lively Ones'! It sank without trace as a commercial entity, but resurfaced over seven years later to a quite different fate. The mystery of how, and why, it came out on H-D-H's Music Merchant label has confounded many for years. The simple truth can be found in the relationship Johnny Terry enjoyed with the Holland brothers – he is their brother in law. Easy access at family gatherings no doubt. "Honey" wasn't released at all, and would have been lost forever but for the discovery of a single, badly scratched acetate in the late 1990s (the original master tape had disappeared). Through the wonders of modern technique, and incredible skill and patience by two very talented individuals, the song was restored to its original condition and issued as a 7" single on Hayley Records (HR 003) in 2001.


IPB image



By the end of 1965 Johnny Terry (pictured right -second left) had established his own Empire production company, which included his own Empire record label, and a roster of local artists. The Honey Bees, Jack Montgomery and The Just Brothers all recorded for Terry. One of the earliest releases on Empire saw "She broke his heart" and "Things will get better" paired together. Don Juan Mancha was recruited as a staff writer and producer, and it was one of his songs that became The Just Brothers' next release. "Carlena" was also recorded at United Sound using many of the same musicians, including Frank on bass. Like many other small, independent operations though, adequate national distribution and promotion was always a problem, and with this in mind, Terry inked a deal with Scepter / Wand for this purpose. The Garrison label was set up to showcase Terry's acts, with a view to gaining national release, should sales potential be reached. "Carlena" was released on the label (with "She broke his heart" as the flip) as well as The Honey Bees' "Let's get back together"/ "Never in a million years", but it was only Jack Montgomery who gained a direct Scepter release with his "Dearly beloved"/ "Do you believe it". Sadly, "Carlena" flopped commercially and the brothers didn't record under their own names again until 1969. Frank continued to stay busy as a session musician both on recordings and on 'live' tours. He joined the Choker Campbell band and played on many of the Motown reviews, before touring with Stevie Wonder, Junior Walker, Four Tops, Contours and Brenda Holloway.



The Just Brothers gained another member in 1969, when Frank's best buddy Willie Kendrick joined the group as an additional vocalist. They had worked together before, at Golden World, when Frank had accompanied Willie to the audition that resulted in his one release for the label "Stop this train" b/w "Fine as wine". In late 1969 they were approached by Johnny Nash who negotiated a deal with Johnny Terry for them to join his Jomada label in New York, where the trio recorded one song, "Good time". Written by Johnny Terry, Jimmy Bryant and Willie Kendrick, the backing track was recorded in Detroit, and produced by Terry and Frank Bryant. Inexplicably, when the record did come out, white crooner Johnny Daye had replaced their voices, and their contract was subsequently cancelled!


IPB image


Within a year of the Jomada debacle however, Johnny Terry worked with the brothers again, when he represented them to the Holland Dozier triumvirate. He had already negotiated a deal with 'HDH' to re release "Sliced tomatoes" on their Music Merchant label, and wanted to record new material with the Bryant brothers. Coincidentally, Jack Ashford was in the process of assembling local artists for his newly formed Pied Piper production company, and was keen to sign the Just Brothers too. He actually went as far as offering them a specific deal with Pied Piper. After much thought and debate though, it was decided that Willie would join Pied Piper, and Frank and Jimmy would record for Music Merchant. Although a complete album ("Just Brothers" MMA 103) was planned for them, the Just Brothers only recorded two 'new' songs for the label, "Tears ago" and "You've got the love to make me over", and, ironically, they were both paired with "Sliced tomatoes" as single releases. "Things will get better" was re issued on Music Merchant too. One unsolved mystery does remain however. Frank distinctly remembers having the photographs for the album cover taken, but has no idea what became of them.


Frank and Jimmy continued to work together away from the recording studio as members of The Firebirds, a group of musicians who accompanied local artists in the many nightclubs and cabaret spots around Detroit. Joe Hunter tickled keyboards and piano, Dave Hamilton alternated between vibes and guitar, Tony Washington handled the drums, and Sam Coleman and Clarence Hughley played the horns. They frequently backed the likes of Emmanuel Laskey, Dennis Edwards, Fabulous Peps, Gwen Owens, Jack Montgomery plus many others. They even managed to record one record for Excello in 1970, "Soul sonata"/ "I just don't believe you". .


Sadly, Jimmy Bryant died in January 1996, but Frank continues to play around the city to this day. The Just Brothers' musical legacy is relatively small in comparison to many other artists of their era. But in "Sliced tomatoes" and "Carlena" they have contributed two of the most popular and enduring dancehall classics of the modern age. And, lest we forget their 'other' material - noted soul scribe Dave Godin, no less, nominated their interpretation of "She broke his heart" as one of his favourite Deep Soul Treasures EVER! One can only surmise what the planned Just Brothers album would have sounded like. If it maintained the standard of "Tears ago" and "You've got the love to make me over", the prospect would have been truly monumental.

Rob Moss



IPB image
A recent photo of Frank Bryant

many thanks to Rob for contributing the above


Members Comments

Recommended Comments

Site note - this article was originally published on Soul Source in full back in 2006, it was clipped approx 2012 at the author Rob Moss's request.

Rob here in 2023, has just given us the ok to revive and re-publish this and others in full.

This is the first revived one and the plan is to revive others on a weekly basis.

Thanks go out to Rob for this.

Link to comment
Social source share

Get involved with Soul Source

Add your comments now

Join Soul Source

A free & easy soul music affair!

Join Soul Source now!

Log in to Soul Source

Jump right back in!

Log in now!

  • Create New...