Transcripts of Interview with Ernie Johnson and John Dixon
First up on the web as a downloadable pdf, it was part of a feature on Phoenix music - a fascinating couple of interviews concerned with Ernie Johnson ( one half of Eddie and Ernie )
Ernie Johnson interview 7-22-04
JB - Did you sing any more last night?
EJ - I did a thing by James Ingram that went over really good. The people just went wild. They've been loving this song ever since I changed the style of it. I ad lib around what he's doing and it fit in perfect. JB - What's the song? EJ - If Loving you is wrong I don't want to be right.
JB - I'm going to go way back to the start. How did you get involved in music in the first place?
EJ - Well, my dad he's a singer, also a guitar player and at the age of 7 I was singing very well and could take just about any person and show them the tune in order to harmonize like it's three people, I could show them how to harmonize. I could also do the bass but my voice was too light. I could show a guy how to tune it up real well and voice control because I learned from very great men, Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole. JB - Listening to records? EJ - Yes. Listening and going to see Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers as a youngster. My dad said, "Brother you listen to that voice and listen well because you have a voice to sing that song just as good or better than the artist, and that's very odd, that means that God has given you something very special."
JB - You also were involved in Gospel from early on correct?
EJ - Yes I did Gospel until Eddie and I decided to try a duet because we weren't making any money. We decided to try and do a duet so we did cut it and sent it to Sue records (a subsidiary of Eastern) and there was the manger Juggy Murray I think owned the company and released the song 'Time waits for no one" and it hit the charts. (It was #1 on New York's WWRL) and next thing we knew we have two tickets to New York to play the Apollo Theater.
JB- that was the first single that you released? And it charted?
EJ - Yes. 1965. Time waits for no one. It was #1 on WWRL in NYC and it was about number 100 or so in Billboard. JB -And then you got flown to the Apollo? EJ - Yes. We did five shows a day, and we worked with people like Wilson Pickett, The Marveletts and Patty Labelle and the Blue Bells, Gene Chandler, The Impressions, The Four Tops, we worked with a lot of artists. JB - That was 1965 primarily? EJ - Just about everything on Motown was #1 but Sue records was kickin' some artist pretty good too.
JB - Weren't you also going to tour with Ike and Tina Turner before Eddie and Ernie but it didn't work out?
EJ - We worked the Holiday in DC with Ike and Tina Turner which was real nice but I seen I do things I couldn't believe. I told Eddie, "man, I don't think I want to work with this guy because he's not doing these ladies right." He was kickin' them and beating them.
JB - How did you meet Eddie?
EJ - I met Eddie through my dad. Eddie had another brother that was older named Leroy Campbell and Eddie was singing around with him a little bit so we decided that we liked singing together, him and I and like I said I knew a lot about voice control which helped turn him into a pretty powerful man, which he could sing anyway. Eddie was one of a kind, he reminded me a lot of Johnny Taylor, he liked Johnny Taylor a lot, not just as a singer but as a player, Eddie was also in that category, also Sam Cooke, we loved some of the artists. Our harmonizing, we worked that out ourselves. We put it together and it came out every song. If we would have had a manager, a good manager at the time they say we would have sold millions and millions. London England rates Eddie and Ernie the best duet in the world, already. (Dave Godin is the main champion of their work, the man that coined the term "Northern Soul" and helped to popularize the movement) We've been popular there for years and I didn't have no knowledge of that because I wasn't looking like I should have and I didn't have anyone to give me direction on keeping up on the keep up.
JB - 65 was a really good year for you guys and you kept cutting sides.
EJ - We cut quite a few sides and a lot of them were played (covered) Like Outcast, I'm going for Myself, was on Columbia, we was on a lot of record companies at the time, they was cutting us and putting us on the desk and not playing them, playing them but not giving them the exposure they could have given them so we could have been successful, so we got beat out of a lot of money, I presume.
JB- Did you do most of your recording in Phoenix?
EJ - We did most of our recording in the south, like Macon, Georgia, where Otis Redding did his stuff for Stax records. We cut in New York City; most of it was in New York, because we had the New York City sound, everybody said.
JB - You guys didn't really do a lot of touring, did you?
EJ - We did not a whole lot but we did tour for maybe a year and we just came back home and sort of gave up to a certain extent and Eddie went his way and I went mine. Then we came back did a few more singles. The last show we did was with Al Green at the California Club in 1972. And I was trying to figure out how to get in touch with Al because he's coming to town, so we should go to that show. Possibly if I could meet him quicker he might let me open the show for him.
JB - When was Eddie and Ernie finished with all together?
EJ- Eddie went to LA and I stayed in Phoenix and went through a lot of changes, trying to get a breakthrough song to come back, to keep trying. I had almost given up. They tell me Eddie went to LA and wrote some songs, some of them were real good sellers and he made some money, but he was sort of out there, drinkin that hard liquor and they said that's what messed him around, he ended up doing things that didn't ordinarily do, but at any rate he uh had cirrhosis of the liver when he died. After that I almost gave up again, but the lord said, "No, you go ahead. I want you to spread my name in Gospel songs." And said "you arise as one of the great spiritual singers in the world," and I believe that the Lord did tell me that, and that's what I did, I wrote the songs and I'm ready to record them and they are some of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear in your life. I call it Spiritual Rock, because when you're rockin and shouting and glorifying god, and as I'm talking tears come to my eyes (crying) because I know this is what the Lord wants me to do. I want to do that and I want to do it with someone that will work. And do a good job. That's all I want to do, it's not so much about the money, it's about being a true human being for someone to love and love other people and to spread gods name all over other world. I know it ain't nothing but the power of god because when I start droppin' tears they're always glorified tears of joy.
JB - Do you want to take a break for a second, are you ok?
EJ - I'm OK. I don't worry about the tears because the tears are tears of joy, it wouldn't make any difference. People look at me and say, "Oh, you're droppin tears, are you crying?" I say "I'm crying to the lord to make me stronger." . . . I want to do what the lord wants me to sing, but I'm also ready for R & B. I'm not a rapper; I wouldn't want to be a rapper. I like the rap I just haven't learned it yet and I don't like what it's done to the children. That's why our children are dying, they don't even get to 15, 16. I think it's nice when someone can grab music from what someone else is doing and rap over it and make it blend in; I think it's great.
JB- Before the CD anthology came out, what were you doing?
EJ - I was doing the Karaoke and working at big Al's. and people started coming, packing the place out on Wednesdays, every time I hit the stage they would scream like I was at the Apollo Theater.
JB- How come you don't try to enter Karaoke competitions where you could make some money?
EJ - Because it's not a challenge to me. Karaoke is for someone that is trying to learn how to sing and control their voice, it's not for a professional singer, but I have entered a thing down on Buckeye Rd and they put my at number 4 in the competition. I know that I won it; they didn't want me to have it. One of the guys said, "man, you're a professional singer and these guys aren't." I said " well it didn't say who could go on, I won it so don't I deserve it? But I tell you what man, go on a keep it, I just won't come over here and sing here again," and that was it.
JB - I don't want to get into a dark area, but you've had some rough times the last few years.
EJ - Oh yes I have. I've had some real bad times. Still having bad times. I am disabled my feet swell up, I have low blood circulation, I have asthma, I have a concussion where I was hit a years ago singing at the Elks club in about 74. That didn't stop me either. They was trying to mess my head up so I couldn't sing anymore but the lord took me through that. About 2 years ago I was hit half way across my back with a 2 by 4, busted my spleen, and I'm still going through changes because of that, and I'm on medication for the rest of my life.
JB - I'm sure it was very nice for you to recoup some of the money you made when the CD came out.
EJ- It was a little bit, it wasn't very much. It was like 2700, but after I paid some people some bills it was gone. We get royalties twice a year so maybe something will come up, I have got a few debts which doesn't feel to good, but I hope they are people that trust and believe that when I get some money I will try to pay them.
"I walked from the club to almost to Pima I was coming down the other side of the bridge and a friend of mine stopped and drove me home. He said, "Man you walk fast, aren't you tired?" I said 'No, I walk that 2 or 3 times a day."
JB - Tell me about how people will come up to you shake your hand and slip you a little something when you perform?
EJ - I think people do that because they know I deserve a much more then I'm given, which is nothing. But a clap of the hands and pat on the back, but it's one thing about it I figure something got to give and it's got to give real quick, because time's winding up, and I know that. This is my last time around and I want to go to the top. All the way. So I'm freelancing, I've got no contracts with nobody and I want to work with somebody that wants to work and I know that we'll be successful if the music is heard.
JB - I would say first things first you've got to get a band.
EJ - Like I said it won't be no problem to get together a band, but you got to have a little money, people don't want to do just . . . I can't do anything too much because I don't have any transportation. One day it was so hot I felt a fainting spell and I went right back into OIC and sat down. So this thing is taking a toll.
JB - Hopefully this story might help sell a couple of CD's, which will eventually help.
EJ - Yeah, somebody should hear and feel and know.
John Dixon interview
JB - How did you get involved with the production of the Eddie and Ernie CD?
JD - I've known the people at Ace for a number of years and somehow Eddie and Ernie came up. They were looking for masters. They mentioned they were getting ready to do a full CD, because Dave Godin (English Soul music guru and man responsible for the term Northern Soul) had been doing his Artistry in Soul series for about 3 volumes and he always put Eddie and Ernie on them. They knew that I had a real good appreciation of the group so Ace and I started talking back and forth and I found out that there were some Columbia sides that I didn't even know about the were unreleased and it seems to me we were trying to find the Artco material (Eddie and Ernie each recorded a solo album in Phoenix that is now extremely rare) at this time this was before the masters were found in Los Angeles, so we started working that way because I had a relationship with them and they decided to do this Eddie and Ernie and things.
And two and a half years ago when I tracked Ernie down I had this interview I was sitting on, and I thought it would be great for them to use some quotes from the interview. In one of the liner notes they mentioned that Eddie was gone but that Ernie was last seen on the streets of Phoenix and might not even be around, so he was kind of lost in action, so once I has that interview it was a great thing to have for someone who is doing a whole CD.
JB - For the readers, when was the resurgence of Northern Soul?
JD - Probably 15 years ago. JB - And it's been going strong for a while now. Do they use these old songs in mixes? JD - It still is going strong. It's not mixes, in Northern Soul you play the track all the way through. No talking over it, no fading, it's very straight. It's a dance tempo thing, it's all tempo and you have to be able to dance to it. It's got to be obscure black American music. Those are about the only two generalizations I can see because it's a pretty wide spectrum. It's very rare they will play a ballad. Eddie and Ernie were obscure enough and a lot of the songs are very poppy and danceable so that's how they kind of worked their way in there and the thing the had going for them was Dave Godin who's the god of Northern soul writing and coined the term and all and was telling people that E&E were the greatest thing since Sam and Dave if not better than, so his credibility gave their music, when the expert of the whole scene is saying hey this is great stuff helped a lot.
It's just amazing how one person can make a difference. It certainly made me appreciate it a little more, I had some of their records but when you have some guru saying that this is the best out of thousands of obscure records it helped me realize how great they really were musically.
90% of the sales of Lost Friends have been in England.
JB- I want to ask you about the detective work you had to do to physically find him.
JD - I had heard as I went around to the clubs "Oh yeah, He's still around, we saw him a couple of months ago" that sort of thing. I went around to a couple of the Salvation Armies in South Phoenix and there's a St. Vincent De Paul on 7th St. and Weldon that's like a big feed em and house em type place and I went in there they said "Last time we saw him was a couple of months ago. . "So I knew he was around and I went over to see Gene Blue (CEO and founder of) at OIC and spoke with him and he said "Oh yeah, Ernie comes around every so often" so that was it, and I didn't think about for a couple of months and one morning Gene Blue called and said "You'll never guess who's sitting across from me in the office" and it was Ernie and so I arranged to pick him up the next day and took him down for breakfast at Denny's and introduced myself and I took all the records and showed him and he was very impressed.
JB -Do you think Ernie can make something happen musically without help that would be lucrative for him?
JD - That's a hard call. I would like to think he could, he's just kind of on that level, no wheels, everybody around town kind of knows him and has an opinion already, and he's burned quite a few bridges I'd like to think he could talent wise because he's been writing songs, mostly gospel. He sings them to me, acapella in the car, and there's some potential there. As I told him he ought to find an Eddie somewhere because sometimes these guys get booked in England on the basis of these Northern soul shows, but here's a guy that hasn't been out of town in years and on a plane and traveling and staying in hotels, and I don't know. I wouldn't want to be responsible for Ernie on that level, I'm more than happy to get him what's due and anything back royalty wise that he can't because of his circumstances get but I'm not into establishing careers again and I just don't know.
I know when your standing in the hot sun pushing a little car around and you feet are swelling and you go 'where's my money" and I'm the only guy that can help him and I say 'Ernie you should have gotten your money 30 years ago when you might have been making some money and made better deals." Eddie kept up his address and was a more prolific songwriter. Eddie wrote some songs that Jackie Wilson covered and He kept at it after Eddie and Ernie broke up and moved to LA, so Eddie was married had a second wife and a daughter whom I've talked to too and tracked down and they've been getting royalties all along, if you don't write these companies and tell them where you are their not going to go out of their way to find you. But if you do they will send you what's due.
Maybe it's within him still, I would like to think so I just don't know. Bob Corritore at Rhythm Room has got the blues nights and he's got the legends of Arizona blues and Small Paul is down there and the Whitehead brothers and Big Pete Pierson, he could do it on that level easy, but the guy doesn't have a car and there are all these things. It would be nice if he would find someone that would manage him on that level.
I was kind of worried when I gave him the royalty money, he came into quite a bit of money all of a sudden and just as quick as he came into it was gone. I don't know what he was doing.
There's quite a bit of support in South Phoenix for people in Ernie's circumstances. He comes up with some great clothes. Beautiful leather shoes and he looks great. One time I picked him up at some park and he had some purple suit on, it was wild. And he had these real cheese thongs on; I was like Ernie you need to get some patent leather. And then in two weeks the suit is gone. He doesn't have a place to keep it. Id like to think there would be some historical society or music appreciation group that might help him out and get him an apartment, when he got some money he got a room with somebody and then they had a falling out, he never had the money to get an apartment which would be nice. He wanted me to get him a guitar I said Ernie, "where are you going to put it?" He said "I need to write some songs" and I said maybe you do but where are you going to put it?
JB - Do you think it would be more beneficial to him to move on and enjoy what he did rather than trying to do something that is difficult if not impossible to do (get a band together)
JD - He's good at it I just wish he would get a job at McDonalds or whatever but he doesn't even seem to want to do that.
When you hear that talent and you know it came out of his relationship with Eddie and they wrote their own songs . . .
JB - As far as historical Arizona music how important are they?
JD - Well that's a tough one. That's an old thing, do you have to sell 3 million to be successful or to have the agreement of hundreds of soul experts that say you're the greatest and you have that kind of cult level, which is better? I don't know, I like the little guy anyway. To me Duane Eddie is the best thing that ever came out of Phoenix, but to my mind Eddie and Ernie are right up there with Duane Eddie as far as quality and depth of songs and powerful stuff, that's just some killer shit, it's amazing. They grew up here and have very solid Phoenix connections, so that's such a subjective thing, but to my mind there are as good as anything that came out of here.
JB - He wanted me to take him to a place at 13th Ave and Pima after the Karaoke show, what's there?
JD - "It's a house, for a while there was a camper shell in the back and he was staying there in the camper shell, and then something happened, the guy sold the camper shell or something, and then Ernie moved away, now he back there, I don't know if he stays on the couch, sometimes he'll stay with his sister but they're always at it, his parents are very very elderly and they are still living, his father was a minister and he must be in his 90's and they've been through it with Ernie, that's why I know Ernie was so happy when the CD finally came out he was able to show his dad. I went over there and sat in the living room and it he was just so happy because here's proof that I've done something.
JB - Is there a Sweetwater in every town?
JD A lot of people don't know about his musical past. A lot of people are amazed when you show them the CD they go "Oh, geez, is that you?" because they've been seeing this character scuffling around all these years. And when you check out the CD people realize it's really something, it's almost like it's a different guy.
JB- do you think if they had the proper direction and management that they could have done something more than they did?
JD - Oh hell yeah. It's all management. If these guys had better management, and Ernie says in the interview that they never had a manager. Their manager was whoever owned the label . . .They didn't have good management that kept them in line, got them good deals and got them to the gig and got them some money.
"These guys, most historic Phoenix music people that made records make some records and go back to doing whatever they were doing before music and here's guys (E&E) that got pulled out of Phoenix to play the Apollo, that's got to fry your little head."
the original feature is no longer online
Since this was published we had the sad news that Ernie Johnson had passed away after a hit and run incident in Phoenix in 2005
Can read his obituary written by Ady Croasdell via link below