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Sour Note

SOUR NOTE
By Roger Jewell

“Stomp”, “Strawberry Letter 23”, and “I’ll Be Good to You”, are songs that were and are very popular. The group is Brothers Johnson. While one of them recorded songs with Michael Jackson, this story is just about George Johnson. The band had toured with Billy Preston’s band as well as backing up the Supremes. They became famous in the 1970s and both George and his brother, Louis, wore huge afro hairstyles, reminiscent of the 1970s trend. Producer Quincy Jones (who produced Jackson’s “Thriller” album) produced the original recording of “I’ll Be Good to You” by the Brothers Johnson. Jones later recorded a hit remake rendition of that song with Ray Charles in the 1980s.

In 1990, I was working as a reporter for a chain of weekly newspapers in Southern California. I was writing stories about celebrities and conjured up the idea to contact George Johnson through Quincy Jones. Surprisingly, George called me and the interview began. George sounded like a nice guy and told me that I could contact him in the further if I so desired. In this interview, George disclosed some unusual allegations.

George did not have a recording contract at the time that I interviewed him and I felt that he was a little upset at that condition. There were some rather shocking revelations. First, he alleged that the legal department for the record label he had been recording for, Herb Alpert’s A&M Records, had planted surveillance equipment during record contract negotiations in order to gain leverage over Brothers Johnson. He added that the legal department was “racist.” It was an interesting allegation considering A&M’s roster of artists many of whom were African-American.

George had wielded a great deal of influence in the record business having served on the board of the Grammy Awards. Due to what George referred to as “politics,” he resigned from the board.

It was a pleasure to talk to such a kind soul. Unfortunately, George’s influence in the music business has dwindled progressively, although he occasionally acts as producer for other artist recordings. I would like to see him make a comeback but it is not likely to occur.

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