“I’m an entertainer, I love it and when I walk on that stage I become another person. I know my audiences and I know what to do to make them smile and how to make them happy. I always like to fulfill requests if I know ahead of time; I love to do that; who doesn’t like to make people happy?”
Terry Isaiah Johnson, sometimes known as “Buzzy” has been entertaining and making people happy since he was a young teenager; eventually rising to fame as a member of The Flamingos in the latter half of the 1950’s.
Starting out playing in clubs and small concert halls until their mega-hit single, “I Only have Eyes For You” was released in 1959, Johnson and his fellow band mates quickly gained notoriety. The iconic single has been featured in countless TV shows, movies and on compilation releases for more than six decades and has now been re-recorded and released by Johnson as part of a solo project; however this nor the original would not have happened had it not been for his persistence.
“I know, it just won’t die, it just keeps moving right along,” he said with a laugh. “I feel blessed and that’s the only word that I can find because that arrangement came from my soul. When I did it with The Flamingos they didn’t liked it, nobody liked it. They thought it was corny, it was weird, they said it wasn’t 50’s music. George Goldner the president of End Records at the time, he was pissed off with me and said, “What the hell are you doing? You go into the studio without me and you come up with garbage like this?” I said, it’s not garbage George, he said, “Terry this is not a 50’s song!” “Good Night Sweetheart” was supposed to be the release from the album but when the DJs heard the album they all chose, “I Only Have Eyes For You.” After that song became a hit, George was the nicest person in the world, all the guys in the group loved me, they said, “We sound great! Don’t we sound great?”
Johnson’s faith in his writing and willingness to showcase his talents paid off with George Goldner and End Records but that wasn’t the first time this gentleman from the State of Maryland took a risk with his music career and with the single’s re-release it’s obviously not the last.
“My first gig I was 14 and I had a group in Baltimore where I’m from, we were called The Whispers. I was always putting groups together and we did a talent show and we won and it was a great feeling. Then we went to New York and we were turned down but there were four songs that I had and then we stopped in Philadelphia at Gotham Records and recorded four songs. They were pretty good songs but they didn’t really take off and then The Flamingos came to town and I knew them and I kind of took up with them and they said that they were looking for a person who sings tenor or baritone and we need somebody who plays bass or piano or guitar and I said, well I do all of that. So that’s when I got with them in 1956 and I remember the first gig was in Miami and it was the stage at “The Rockin’ M.B.,” Bucky Gray was the guy’s name and he was the owner. The place was jam-packed, you couldn’t move in there; we did our music and it wasn’t all rhythm and blues because I wasn’t raised on rhythm and blues music. So we did some white songs like Everly Brothers “Bird Dog” and that kind of stuff (laughs). People loved us and I felt that I had made the right choice in life because we were accepted. My parents wouldn’t let me hear R & B; no radio for R & B. They’d have Arthur Godfrey, Julius La Rosa, Steve and Eydie, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr, Sinatra, Vic Damone; so it was white artists that I was raised on. When I got with The Flamingos I carried that with me and introduced them to it and at first they didn’t know how to take it but then when they saw it working in every place we were working at they really appreciated it. When I left The Flamingos I moved on to Motown and was Smokey Robinson‘s partner for 10 years. I recorded everybody there; Temptations, Four Tops, Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr, so there are a lot of stories I can tell (laughs).”
“Yeah the single, it was released earlier this year; it really wasn’t me (pushing it) it was Providence. I don’t know if you know Paul Kasofsky but we had written some songs and we went to Reba McEntire‘s studio in Nashville and my wife Theresa (Trigg) and I did the song that we wrote called “Until Then” and we finished the track in about two hours so we had an hour left so he said, “Let’s do “I Only Have Eyes For You.“ So Jimmy Nichols who was the piano player and producer laid down this track and I said, whoa that’s nice and it was “I Only Have Eyes For You” but in a different way. I think he wanted it to sound something like “Lady In Red” and the musicians were like destiny, they had never heard it but they played everything right where it was supposed to be; do you know what I’m trying to say? When I sang it after they laid down the track, it seemed like no matter what I did, things like the guitar was answering me in a way and the piano was there; it fit together like a puzzle. So Paul asked me, since we had recorded it for someone else; well the kid, he didn’t have the feeling for it so the producer Jimmy asked me to go into the booth and just give him a feel of how you would do it and when I did it they said, “Oh shit (laughs) that’s it! No, No, No it’s for you!” Then I took the track home and got down with it and my wife produced me and I came up with a winner.”
“My wife and I produce each other, we’re a production team but I listen to her,” he explainedwith the cautious laugh of an experienced man. “When she hears things; like when she moved a part in that song I said, no, no, no, no, no I don’t want that, she said, “Just look, we can always bring it back, just let me move it” and when she did I said, damn I didn’t hear that at all; she’s really good, she’s a really good producer.”
“March 7 at The Count Basie Theater, we’re looking forward to it; we’ll have our CDs and stuff there, we’re going to have a great show with my Flamingos. I won’t do the (new) recording there because that’s my solo project but we’re on a bill with Larry Chance and some other groups; I can’t remember everybody at the moment because I’ve got so many things running through my mind at the same time.”
The “Other groups” taking part in “An Evening of Doo-Wop Volume II” are, Charlie Thomas’s Drifters, The Legendary Teenagers, The Fireflies, Larry Dell and The Demensions, Jimmy Gallagher & The Passions and more; so how along can we expect the sets to last?
“About 20 minutes, maybe 25. It’s never really long enough and audiences always say; why didn’t you do so and so or why didn’t you stay longer?”
So how does Johnson sum it all up?
What I want to say about this new recording is that it’s really a love song just like the iconic one that the Flamingos did; I have a saying that love never dies, love never grows old. That’s why I know this song will be able to catch on the same way The Flamingos version did; do you know what I mean? People fall in love, I don’t care how long ago or how new or in the future; people fall in love and music always plays a very important role in that and oh yeah, I’m excited about it, things are moving smooth.”