Charley Johnson

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Not much seems to be known about the trombonist Charley Johnson, who performed with various bands led by Benny Carter during the '40s. His career is a mystery story in which there are too many suspects…
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Not much seems to be known about the trombonist Charley Johnson, who performed with various bands led by Benny Carter during the '40s. His career is a mystery story in which there are too many suspects named Johnson and trombones seem to be stashed hither and yon as if one of them was really a smoking gun. In conclusion, it seems that while Charlie Johnson may have hired Benny Carter, Benny Carter did not turn around in the following decade and hire his old boss. These facts are revealed not through any differences in spelling between Charley Johnson and Charlie Johnson; as far as the people who write and edit liner notes and compile discographies, those first names might as well be the same. Anyone whose name is Charlie is bound to have a few credits here and there as Charley, Charles, perhaps even Chuck.

The people themselves are much less interchangeable, even if all of them seem to be carrying trombones. Up until the mid-'30s, Charlie Johnson was a pianist and bandleader who was one of the first artists to hire young Benny Carter and give him a chance to do arrangements. This Johnson was also a trombonist before he began concentrating on piano. Carter himself also played trombone, one of several different instruments he mastered besides his main reed axes. But by the '40s, when Carter had his own group including a trombonist named Charley Johnson, the pianist Johnson was suffering from serious health issues and was most likely not out gigging on trombone. Carter himself seemed to have a serious interest in the name Johnson, as if he was a frontiersman building up a loyal posse. On trombone alone he also featured J.J. Johnson and Keg Johnson, plus there was drummer Walter Johnson and saxophonist George "Happy" Johnson. What was the latter player so happy about? Probably being around so many people named Johnson. Among the Carter sides that trombonist Johnson blows on are recordings featuring the fine vocalist Al Hibbler.