Herb Johnson & The Impacts

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Philadelphia soul legend Herb Johnson was born December 26, 1935 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, relocating to the City of Brotherly Love at the age of nine. At 18 he joined the U.S. Air Force, performing…
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Philadelphia soul legend Herb Johnson was born December 26, 1935 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, relocating to the City of Brotherly Love at the age of nine. At 18 he joined the U.S. Air Force, performing R&B covers on USO package tours as a member of a group called the Lyrics; following his discharge, Johnson returned home to Philadelphia, joining vocal group the Ambassadors. Around this time he also auditioned as lead vocalist with the Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra, losing out to the renowned Little Jimmy Scott. (It was not the only frustrating near-miss Johnson would endure during his career -- he lost his bid to replace the Flamingos' Nate Nelson to Billy Paul, and because he couldn't dance, he was later passed over to replace Franklin Peaker in Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.) In the spring of 1960 Johnson signed as a solo act to Len "Buddy" Caldwell's Len label, collaborating with backing vocalists the Cruisers on his debut single, the two-sided hit "Guilty"/"Have You Heard" -- the record was a local smash, selling in excess of 50,000 copies in Philly alone, but never cracked the national consciousness. In 1961 he resurfaced on Caldwell's V-Tone label with a pair of singles, "Remember Me" and "Deep Down Love," followed the subsequent year by "Help," cut for Caldwell's Palm imprint; from there, Johnson and backing unit the Impacts -- guitarist Bobby Eli, bassist Wally Osborne, keyboardist Charlie "Teach" Peoples, drummer Howard "Little" Rice and saxophonist Curtis Brooks -- skittered from label to label, among them Arctic ("Gloomy Day" and "Carfare Back") and Swan ("Two Steps Ahead of a Woman"). In 1968 Osborne formed his own label, Toxan, for which Johnson recorded his most memorable outing, "I'm So Glad" -- despite national distribution via Brunswick, the record was not a hit upon its original release, but today enjoys classic status within Britain's Northern Soul club culture. Still, its initial failure so stung Johnson that he opened a Philadelphia ice cream shop, dramatically scaling back his performance schedule -- in 1972, he cut his farewell record "Damph F'Aint," a James Brown-inspired funk cult classic complete with extemporaneous lyrics. Over a decade later, Johnson agreed to an interview with Philadelphia radio station WXPN that resulted in an offer to sing with the local a cappella group the Zip Codes; a few years later, he signed on with doo wop combo A Moment's Pleasure, which regularly appeared at city-sponsored events on the recommendation of then-Mayor and avowed fan Ed Rendell. Following the group's demise, Johnson was contacted by Dave Brown, drummer for Philadelphia dream pop combo the Clock Strikes Thirteen and owner of the Philly Archives reissue label; not only did Brown hope to re-release Johnson's vintage sides on CD, but he also wished to form a latter-day incarnation of the Impacts, even recruiting original guitarist Bobby Eli. The new group became a major favorite on the Philadelphia nightclub circuit, and in 2002 Philly Archives issued Remember Me, a compilation of Johnson's finest singles. In 2003 he cut his final new song "Make You Wanna Holler," recorded with Finland's Soul Investigators and issued on the Timmion label; on January 19, 2004, Johnson lost his long battle with cancer.