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Stacey Johnson

A living St. Louis Blues legend, Stacey Johnson's career dates back to his early days with Ike Turner and the Ikettes. Soft spoken as he is, Stacey is one of St. Louis' best vocalists, which you can experience for yourself down at 1860's in Soulard on thursday nights. Raised on the Gospel, Stacey has that soulful sound that wraps you in the true feel of the Blues. Please welcome Stacey Johnson as our Bluesnet feature artist

BN: It's great to meet you, thanks for spending some time with STLBlues today!

My pleasure!

Lets begin with some personal history. Are you from St. Louis?

Born and raised here, April 13th, 1945. Grew up in downtown St. Louis, more or less, around Sarah & Finney. I migrated west in 1950, and by 1956-57 I started singing.....do-wops, local groups, corner singing.

BN: Tell us about some of the names from your past, like Bennie Sharp and Vernon Guy.

SJ: Oh wow!. Bennie Sharp was a gentleman that I met in 1958, when I was singing with a group called "The Arabians". Bennie heard me sing a song by Joe Tex, "All I could do is cry". I think he thought I was really soulful, but I was really just scared to death. But I impressed him! I started off kind of gradually with Bennie, more or less as a valet. I'd sing a number or two a night, and I'd carry his guitar and amplifier, and he'd pay me two bucks a night. We'd go from club to club to club. At that time he had a group called "Charles Drain and the Four Taps", who were a mainstay with his group then , which was "Bennie Sharp and the Zorros of Rhythm". The group had a record, and upon the making of that record, the group decided they wanted to like leave, and they migrated to Chicago. You had Atlantic records there, and another label, whose name escapes me now. Oliver Sain, Little Milton, Fontella Bass, just everybody was goin' to Chicago.

Anyway, they moved up to Chicago, which opened up a position for singing here. I guess I started singing for about a month, and I really wasn't very good. Charles came back for a visit, I don't think Chicago was as good as they thought it would be, and Bennie sent me to get him. So I went and got Charles and came back, we were at the old Club Dynaflow down on Glasgow and Cass. I stood there while Bennie offered Charles his old job back! I was like fifteen back then, and I guess that was enough incentive.... you know when you're fifteen you carry your feelings on your sleeve, I got the Blues real quick. Charles said "oh, it'll take me about two weeks before I get back here", and in the two weeks it took Charles to come back, I had established myself with the band. Just that quick! I mean I wanted the job just that bad!! And then Vernon (Guy) joined the group. I had been with the group at least a year or better. I knew Vernon from the old Dave Dixon talent shows, and his group the "Cool Sounds", a really, really big group. It was Vernon and his brother and four other gentleman. Chuck Berry had a place on Grand, and Vernon came up one night. We kinda bonded and talked, and he was excited that I had actually graduated from singing with singing groups to actually singing with a band. I introduced him to Bennie, and Bennie asked him to sing a song...I think he did "Shout" by the Isley Brothers, and Bennie was very impressed! That was the forming of what later became "Bennie Sharp and The Sharpies", at that time they were known as "New Breed".

BN: Tell us about some of the music you then put out!

SJ: At the time when the Sharpies became a credible group, Vernon and I had left St. Louis, we were with Ike and Tina. I left Ike and Tina in the mid 60's, and Vernon left shortly thereafter. Vernon came home and got back with the Sharpies, and the group was revitalized again. The group had continued, but when Vernon came back it just enhanced them. The very first record the Sharpies did was "Do the 45", of which I was not a part of. I came back upon the release of "Do the 45". My job at that time was to be in St. Louis working with the band while the group (which consisted of Herbert Reeves, Maurice O'Toole, Vernon Guy and Bennie Sharp) was out on the road. Right after that Maurice contracted tuberculosis, became very ill, and had to drop out of the group. This threw me right back into the group again.

During our time away from the group with Ike and Tina, I guess Bennie... I guess you could say he bragged a lot on us, so by the time I came back, they wanted no part of me in the group....except Vernon and the people I was close to. The other two guys, they were like, naaa, that's your pet....that kind of thing. So I kind of went through the gauntlet and then came back to the fold. So we went back into the studio and did "Tired of being lonely", which to date was the Sharpies biggest record. It hit Billboard with a bullet!

BN: A friend of yours told me that Vernon Guy used to win the Dave Dixon "Shower of Stars" music contest quite often

SJ: All the time...the Cool Sounds won all the time.

BN: I've heard that Jackie Wilson used to show up at the "Shower of Stars" quite a bit. Is it true that Jackie would go out on the street corners and just try to get people on the street to join in and harmonize with him?

SJ: (Laughs) Yes, I never had a chance to get in on that. I know for sure that Vernon and the Cool Sounds.....the old Riveira club, before they tore it down, Jackie appeared there two or three times year, the Cool Sounds were always on the show. Vernon and the Cool Sounds had a lot of opportunities to sing on stage with Jackie. Vernon had a lot of Jackies characteristics on stage at that time, in as much as he had the voice, and he danced a lot. Everybody in those days tried to emulate Jackie. I only had the opportunity to meet him, I never had the chance to sing with him. I was taken backstage at the Keil Auditorium one time by a friend of my moms, and introduced to Jackie. I was just dumbfounded! He asked me what I was singing, and I just said ......"yeah"....I was totally lost (laughs). In those days the Cool Sounds did a lot of stuff. Vernon was exposed to a lot of big name acts, because the owner of the Riveira was really fond of the Cool Sounds.

BN: You performed with Ike and Tina Turner quite a bit. What was that experience like?

SJ: Performing with Ike and Tina Turner was probably the biggest learning experience of my life. When I was with Bennie Sharp and The Sharpies, I learned a lot, I just soaked up stuff. But when I got with Ike and Tina Turner, I was exposed to a lot more, and I had to very quickly become aware of my surroundings. I had to adjust to the awe of just being in the presence of these people. Ike was a taskmaster, he expected a lot, and you had to give him a lot. He wanted a show that was unsurpassed by any other. At the time we were out there with Ike and Tina, there were only three bands that were really busy, and that was Bobby Bland, James Brown, and Ike and Tina Turner! And they worked consistently, I mean we'd bump into them on the road all the time. We'd leave one city and go to another and James would either be just leaving, or we'd be just arriving and James would be coming or Bobby would be coming into town, one or the other.

It was a good time, Vernon and I both went on the road with Ike and Tina. Vernon had just turned seventeen, and I turned seventeen three weeks after. It was brand new, and they had us excited the whole time. With every city we went to there was just this element of surprise and excitement. In January Ike and Tina would always vacation in Los Angeles, because that was their home base, and they had us believing at seventeen that California was the promised land! We couldn't wait to get to California....the sunshine, the women, the whole bit! We couldn't wait!! It was everything they said, everything and more.

BN: You've also performed with Robbie Mongomery quite a bit.

SJ: Yes, Robbie is a dear friend of mine. I met Robbie during the days of the Sharpies, she was an "Ikette". All three of the Ikettes had some problems on the road with Ike and Tina, and had quit, more or less. They came home here to St. Louis, and they started working with our band. Robbie was very instrumental in Vernon and I going to Ike and Tina, because when she left St. Louis and went back on the road with the Ikettes, she kind of emulated us. There was a minimum amount of dancing being done with the Ike and Tina show, and upon Vernon and I going, the whole show changed, because we interjected 90% - and I stand convinced of this - 90% of the dance routines that they did as a whole group.

BN: Do you feel that Vernon Guy and yourself are somewhat responsible for the choreography that Tina Turner does today?

SJ: Absolutely! We brought youth to it, and the element of dance to it, because we were group oriented. Robbie did a lot of bragging when she went out to L.A. about how "bad" the Sharpies were. We took time with our choreography, and when we got out there, songs like "Shake a tail feather", and we used to have a tune "Do you love me - we added a little "push-push" routine - which you can see Tina doing even today on "Rolling on the river". I believe it was 1986 or 87, Robbie called me...I had actually stopped singing for about 5 years, as a matter of fact, it was about the time of the first European tour for the Kings of Rhythm, and she called me and asked if I would be interested in going to Holland, Switzerland? I said "where's that" (laughs). I said "you bet", I'll be glad to, when are we going? Robbie said "well, we'll be in rehearsal for a while". So we rehearsed for months, and we went, and it was awesome. I stay in touch with Robbie as often as I can.

BN: Tell us what you're up to these days.

SJ: Well, I'm performing Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons down at the 1860's Hardshell Saloon in Soulard, so come on down and catch me there. I'd like to do some recording this year. I've written a lot of stuff that other people have done, and I just think it's time I let people have a taste of me. Musically, I think I have something to offer.

BN: We couldn't agree more. On behalf of the Bluesnet, thanks for taking the time to grant this interview.

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