Johnny Ace with The Beale Streeters – My Song

• “My Song” set to an image of Johnny. Thanks to jukejointjohnny48.

9.8 “All-time classic Soul Ballad from the USA”

Recently added to my collection via “Blowing The Fuse – 29 R n B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1952” (Bear Family Records, 2005).

Sheer class, and a cert for a Top 10 slot in my song chart of 1952 when the time comes to publish. The tragedy of Johnny Ace is told via

Early years:

The boy who would become Johnny Ace was a restless one, enthralled by Memphis’ thriving blues and R&B scene but forbidden to play or even hear secular music by his minister father. Johnny dropped out of high school and joined the Navy, then was dishonorably discharged after sneaking out to play piano in local bars.

Now back on the streets, the young singer joined the backing group of a rising star named B.B. King; when King’s new manager insisted he be signed without a band, Johnny took it over, renamed it the Beale Streeters after Memphis’ famous musical strip, and made quite a bit of noise around town. When local Duke Records signed one of the Streeters, Bobby “Blue” Bland, he showed up too drunk to perform, and label head David Mattis became intrigued with Johnny after hearing him fooling around with a Ruth Brown hit called “So Long.”


Mattis wanted an original song, however, so Johnny took the Ruth hit and changed it just enough to make it his own: now called “My Song,” and with a label proclaiming the artist as “Johnny Ace,” it shot straight to #1 R&B and stayed there for two solid months.

In fact, Ace was one of the most popular black artists of the next few years — every song charted, which was a rarity in itself for the time, and he moved millions of 45s. His urbane yet passionate style, a sort of pop croon adapted to a slick West Coast kind of blues balladry, proved enormously popular, although as a pianist, he could and often did explore boogie-woogie and jump blues on his b-sides.


However, just as Johnny was primed to take his place in rock and roll’s early mid-50s pantheon, he accidentally ended his life: on Christmas night, 1954, Ace was showing off his pistol backstage at a concert in Houston. Much as would later happen with Chicago’s Terry Kath, he put the gun to his head to prove it wasn’t loaded, and promptly killed himself with one shot. Scandal sheets of the time erroneously claimed Ace had been playing Russian Roulette, and the error was picked up by the national media, starting a rumor that still unfortunately persists today. More important was the effect of his death: for the first time, several artists recorded “tribute records,” and Duke assembled a “memorial album” of his few sides that proved so popular it was still selling in record stores 30 years later.

Ace had just purchased a brand-new car the day of his death, further debunking “suicide” rumours.

A 12-year-old Lou Reed wore a black armband all day when he heard of Ace’s death.

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