Floyd Johnson

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Since the name Floyd Johnson isn't all that catchy, more the kind of name that one might see on the front of a hardware store than a marquee, the idea of acquiring a sweet nickname such as "Candy" might…
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Since the name Floyd Johnson isn't all that catchy, more the kind of name that one might see on the front of a hardware store than a marquee, the idea of acquiring a sweet nickname such as "Candy" might have seemed appealing to an up and coming jazz horn player. Floyd "Candy" Johnson's career playing tenor and baritone sax stretched back to the '30s, but he was still recording and performing as the '60s rolled in and professionally had been more or less going under the name of just Candy Johnson. Almost every single vintage jazz performer had trouble coping with the changes in the music scene that came along in the '60s, yet none faced the additional problems Johnson did. In 1962, along came a smash go-go dancer named Candy Johnson who began making records, even having her tunes covered by the likes of Tom Jones. Floyd "Candy" Johnson reappeared as a name on album credits, as did just plain Floyd Johnson. He was not too terribly disillusioned that the public would rather have a Candy Johnson that was a go-go dancer than one who blew the saxophone. After all, this was a seasoned jazzman who had come up in the '40s as a member of the Andy Kirk medium-sized band the Twelve Clouds of Joy. He had no doubt heard the joke about the public preferring a talking frog to a world famous jazz drummer. Perhaps this was why Johnson, after beginning his career as a drummer at the age of 13, switched to saxophone, beginning with the alto but working his way downward toward tenor and baritone as time marched on. As a drummer, he played on enough blues sessions to pin up his discography alongside some of the better known rhythm keepers in this genre. He studied horn at Wilberforce College, where he began playing with the student band and the gigging groups of Ernie Fields and Tiny Bradshaw. Johnson's cousin was saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, who would eventually gain fame in the honking, funky sax genre. From 1942 to 1947, Johnson worked with Kirk, where he was often featured as a soloist on ballads, displaying a clean tone, an unhurried sense of timing, and the unmistakable presence of Coleman Hawkins in his solos. A stint with Count Basie's band followed, fortifying the content of his punch. By now, he had acquired the nickname as well, derived from his well-known sweet tooth. In the early '50s, he began leading his own band, the Peppermint Sticks, based out of Detroit and adhering to the concept of his nickname like candy on the teeth. In the late '50s, he did some of his strongest recording in the relatively simplified context of Bill Doggett's funky jazz combo. Sides such as "Honky Tonk," "Night Train," and the unforgettable "Blip Blop" represent the Da Vinci of this genre. The rise in power of the go-go queen and the British rock invasion coincided with the saxophonist's hiatus from full-time performing, things picking up again pretty much with the arrival of the '70s. He showed up in France on tour with Milt Buckner in France in 1971, sounding as forceful as ever in the pumping organ jazz context. The relationship worked and continued for several years, the French jazz audiences again enjoying an extended tour by the group in 1973. This tour resulted in some terrific recordings involving not only Buckner, but also the fiery sax playing of Arnett Cobb. Jazz fans are of course familiar with the magic that happens when sympathetic horn players get into a jousting position. Johnson's professional activity continued until the mid-'70s and included a short period of time in the Duke Ellington band, substituting for an ailing Paul Gonsalves. Musically, he reached into a deep bag of knowledge to fill these big, warm shoes, but was not required to perform the traditional Gonsalves stroll through the audience while soloing, always including an abrupt halt in the music and a question shouted at the Duke: "Hey boss, when do I get a raise?" Johnson played in and helped organize the New McKinney's Cotton Pickers, a fascinating band project that used the original Don Redman arrangements, music that in its time had rivaled the popular bands of Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington. Some of the original bandmembers were also involved and Johnson stole the show by inserting more modernistic material into his solos. But alas, no one asked him to go-go dance.