Johnny Ace interview

March 16, 2011

Johnny Ace interview

Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview, Johnny. You were born in Queens (N.Y.C.) and you probably saw many great artists back then?
Yea..I was VERY LUCKY to grow up in New York….I loved Music from the very beginning.  I loved and STILL love Jackie Wilson, James Brown, then Wilson Pickett..So many of the great rock n roll singing groups. The Harptones, Little Antony & The Imperials, The Jive 5,The Isley Brothers. When I first heard them do “SHOUT’ on T.V. in 1959 I knew then..that that’s what i wanted to do…Many very obscure vocal groups I still love very much. i guess there called “collector groups..I collect records..45’s..78’s..& LP’S…Then all the great jazz..from back in the 50’s & 60’s..Bird..Monk..I also go back to Louie Armstrong to Count Basie for the love of it all..Plus all the great blues artists..I listed to all of them. I learned from all of those GREAT artists.When I was little..1955-on..New York had all the greats in the clubs and theaters.Live shows…And all the greats were on TV…On TV I saw EVERYONE when I was a kid.Plus radio was GREAT then too..The DJ Joco Henderson..”THE ACE FROM OUTTA SPACE was my hero..Murry The K & Allen Freed were huge influences on me too..I can list 100’s & 100’s of artists that I love then and STILL love now..But there’s no time for that..
You started playing bass when you were 15 years old. Your first band was called The Thompson Ferry Blues Band.
I did start out playin bass at 15…But I was in a basement band for a year and a half..Till 1967 with The Thompson Ferry blues Band. The basement band was “The United Popcorn Federation”. We won the talent show at FK Lane High School in Brooklyn..Where we all went. I left for the blues. The lead singer from The Federation. Kose J. Maldiado AKA. Joe Mala a year later formed KOALA . They went made one LP for Capital Records..They had to pretend they were from Australia…That LP was reissued 3 or so years ago. The Thompson Ferry blues Band was formed in 1967 by Bobby Dupree who in 1980 had the huge hit..”Steal Away”..WE made demos, but couldn’t get a deal. The only music on that band that exits was our last gig in 1970 at Oueens Coledge. But the tape is UNTOUCHABLE…I still have it. That band over three, four years had about 37 or so different members!!..Ha Ha!!! The guy who really turned me on to blues, the late Matty Puluso, guitarist was in that band. He also sat me down and taught me a lot about bass playing when I was 16-17.. He was very very good. and such a dear friend. Also Niles Rogers was with us. SHIEK..He then went in to produce Madonna, Mick Jagger, and Stevie Ray Vaughn..In 1969 I answered an ad in Rolling Stone that Niles and his pal Tom Murry on guitar put out. .Tom Murry was a really GREAT lead player..Him and Niles lived up in The Bronx..Tom Murry should have been very famous. He was that good. I think he passed on. We called that band “Smoakin Gauge”..We NEVER , unfortunately recorded. That band ended in 1970…Great times and music…NO $$$$$!!…Ha Ha!!
Probably the most important thing with The Thompson Ferry Blues Band was to open for Muddy Waters around 1968. You joined The Brooklyn Blues Busters in 1970. You often backed up John Lee Hooker and Victoria Spivey, right?
Your right ..The gig at Ugano’s on West 70th Street in NYC in June of 1970 with Muddy Waters was our most important gig..Muddy was very nice to us. i meet then and I’m still great friends with Paul Oscher, Muddy’s harp player then. .But..I had just as much fun jamming down in our keyboard players Antony Capone’s Basement in East New York , Brooklyn..That shit was TO-TO DEEP..I guess you had to be there!!!..WOW!!! All those jams and gig’s back then 67-70 were so very deep and soulful to me..We were all playing like EACH note was gonna be our LAST!!!.. But we just weren’t gigging enough. Poverty was our best friend..Bobby got a real job..And a bout 3 months later I did too.Then in the beginning of Spring, 1970 I joined up with The Brooklyn Blues Busters. Like you said,I was with The Blues Busters till The Spring of April 1974. Other than that CD Live with Victoria Spivey from the 1973 Ann Arbor blues & Jazz Festiville. The Blues Busters were on a LP on Queenie’s (Victoria Spivey)s label..Spivey Records.She put out about 20-25 LPS..I can’t remember its name.It had a bunch of blues bands from the New York area..It wasn’t to good. The Blues Busters mistake was we didn’t record a LP..We were very good and should have..We were just to busy having fun. John Lee hooker was a true GREAT..I always loved him and got along with him very well..We remained friends till he passed on. I took some nice photo’s of him 7 days before he passed. Tommy Castro had John sing a song on his LP..i think the LP was on blind Pig..”Guilty Of Love’..You can see the photo’s on our bands website. John had a great life.And I’ll say it again..He was SO GREAT..His slow blues would kill me..He never really needed any band..His voice and message got over just fine when he was solo. Of course he made GREAT records with bands too!!!..WOW!! Victoria Spivey I loved like she was my Grandma..She loved all us young players comin up back then when we were kids..she gave us all a chance. She was a very strong minded willful women. she really saw it all. Did you know that she had her own booking agency in the late 1920’s , early 30’s? She recorded with Louie Armstrong, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red..That’s pretty much the top of the tops back then. She retired in the 1940’s..went and did church work..Then got back with the blues in 1959..She started her own Record company..Spivey records. She recorded Bob Dylan blowin harp with big Joe Williams in 1960..And like i said, she let all of us blues kids..young and old record. She recorded a lot of the older greats too..Just google Spivey Records and you can read who she recorded..Just great. That was all done with her husband -partner Lenny Kunstant..He was a musicologist. He did most of the liner notes for their records.I miss them both SO -SO MUCH!!
Perry and the Pumpers is another band you were part of.
I left The Blues Busters two times in my time while with them . One time love called in Montreal, Canada. That was Oct. -Nov. 1971..To COLD and NO WORK..Then on July 5 1972 I left New York and went out to San Francisco and put Perry and The Pumpers together. I meet Perry Welsh ,singer-harp player in 1969 when he was a roadie and back up singer in Elvin Bishops’s group.That was after Elvin left Paul Butterfield in 1968. That was at NYC’s famed Cafe Au GoGo. I stayed with Perry and The Pumpers from July-Nov. 1972..It was a real good blues-r&b band.. But we were all out of control..We were to busy going wild having fun. I lived with Elvin Bishop then. He put me up. When I left, Fly Brooks took my place on bass..Johnny V was on guitarist…A year or so later, Elvin got Johnny . Fly in his band…In 1975 or 76 Elvin with them recorded his huge hit “Fooled Around And Fell In Love”. There band was TREMENDOUS! .I’m still very good friends with Perry Welsh and Johnny V. Fly passed on last year. So we, Perry And The Pumpers NEVER recorded..
You helped to form Steve Miller Band. Later around 1975 you went to form Rhythm Rockers. You were also backing up blues legends like Big Walter Horton and Boogie Woogie Red.
Steve Miller was a great singer and Hammond B3 player. He played piano too..both electric and acoustic., He’s not to be confused with the Steve Miller guitarist rock star of “FLY LIKE AN EAGLE” fame.Steve Miller was in Linn County. They were formally The Profitts from Cedar Rapids, Iowa..They were a rock n roll,blues- psychedelic band from 1966-70. They got signed to Mercury Records in 1967. They made three LP’s for Mercury. They moved out to San Francisco from Chi. in 1967.They did all the great hippie venues at that time..The Fillmore West, The Carosell Ballroom, etc.etc.etc. Then Steve joined Elvin Bishops first band in 1969. I meet Steve when I meet Perry Welsh & Elvin in 69 like i just told you. Steve was tired of San Francisco..so he and Perry moved back to Iowa. in 1973 ..I joined up with them in July 1973.. The band was called “Steven Miller And The New Linn County. The band was GREAT!..It lasted one year, as Stee got an offer to join “Grinder Switch” former roadies and friends of The Allman Brothers. They were with Capricorn Records The label The Allmans were on..It’s good to have good friends! And that ended that. Then I went from Iowa to Boston and joined up with The Rhyum Rockers..This band was really good too. John Nickalas singer-guitar.i meet Jon in Ann Arbor in 1970He had a real nice band there..David Maxwell piano.David before that was with Freddie King for 2-3 years and Bonnie Raitt. He joined James Cotton later. Mark “Kazz” Kasonoff sax & vocals. Franie Christina drums. I stayin for about 6 months. The money was thin, and we were to good..We recorded a live LP for Ron Bartaluchi, the owner of a Boston label that now slips my mind..It was NEVER released. Frannie later joined The Fabulus Thunderbirds..A young just learning Ronnie Earl used to come by and study us..He’d occasionally sit in..but he could hardly play..He got better!..Ha Ha!!..Boogie Red was great and so much fun to be with. I knew him from my day’s in Ann Arbor. He still played well. Big Walter Horton was one of the greats.And when we backed him, he played great, I never really spoke with him. He was a strange one to get to know…
You also played with The Lynne County Band and around 1978 you joined The Elvin Bishop Group.
I then went back to New York i put a vocal group together..we rehearsed about 7 months..maybe more. It was very good. This was 1975-6..in thous time I was also playing with Chicago Breakdown..Brooklyn Slim–Aka. Paul Oscher. This was very good too.. Chicago Breakdown was on one Spivey LP..”New Yorks Really Got THE Blues..The late Rose Melledy sang. ? Perdinnie was on guitar. Paul taught him..He got very good. He also blew really strong harp. I can’t remember his first name.Paul was always great. I then in 1976 went back to Cedar Rapids ,Iowa to reform Linn Couny with Perry Welsh, Ron Dewiit, Walter Sufflesworth and Tommy Giblin on Hammond B3. As I write this..I think after we split up with Steve Miller we put a band together in Cedar Rapids . another Linn County Band…Yea, we did…Then to Boston. This now was ANOTHER attempt. G Churchill was on tenor sax..He was with The Bluesbusters in 1972 & amp; 3….This shit is confusing!!!…I know this Linn county Band lasted more that one year…..
Then in late 1977 or early 1978 I went back to San Francisco. It was when I was with The vocal Group..The Blendairs in 1976. We did record, but I left to go West, and they took my first tenor background note off one song because it was to thin and tin sounding..I was supposed to do the lead to “Sweet Sue”..but that never happened. A 45 was released on Roy Adams Arcade label. A small company he had from Jackson Heights, queens. Then I went to Florida and did some work with Elvin Bishop. Elvin was recording his “FOOL AROUND AND FELL IN LOVE” LP ..Since I meet Elvin, he’d let me at first jam on bass in 1972..Back then we’d have these great all night jam-party’s. at Elvins pad in San Francisco..That’s when I’d just sing.. Elvin told me “there’s a lot of bass players,you should just sing’.You got something special”.So he’d occasionally let me sing lead on his show’s..It was BIG FUN! That lead to him inviting me out to Florida I’d be the secret weapon in his shows.. We had a ball!!…I knew when I first heard Elvin workin’ out “Fooled Around” that it was a hit.. And in Florida when they were recording it and mixing it, I KNEW it was a HIT! I asked Elvin if he’d let me dub a bass vocal note in the harmony..I said you can mix it way down..I just wanted to be on a hit record, plus get some of those hit record royalties!!..Elvin no way wanted a bass vocal note on that record..It would make it sound to old and dated..Like doo wop..Well it was great for Elvin…And the rest is history.
You also played with Charlie Musselwhite.
In 1978-79 I was living in San Francisco with my friend and drummer Walter Shuffles Worth. We were trying to put a KILLER R&B band together..But we couldn’t find the right players. While trying to get this together..When Elvin was off the road His bassman the late Fly Brooks along with Elvins tenor player with Rick McCrakkin on guitar, Tommy Giblin from the last Linn county Band. and a drummer I can’t remember put a band together called “The West Coast Sheiks”..This band was really great and REALLY FUN!!!..It lasted off and on for about a year. I wish we recorded it.. We has some act with a might too!!!..There are NO videos unfortunately of this group..i wish there were!! We should have been really successful..But Lady luck in strange!!..Ha HA!!..Then in that time 78-9 i went with Charlie Musselwhite..Walter Shufflesworth got me the gig. Mike Watson from La was on guitar. He wasn’t called Jr. then. The band never really burned like it should have..I guess the chemistry was off..It was weird…But we did have a lot of fun.
In mid 80’s you played with Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Otis Rush and Roscoe Gordon. In early 90’s you played with Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers, who sadly passed away recently. You also collaborated with Blackie Jones and Nathan Cavaliere.
In May of 1979 I had two kids in San Francisco. I was very upset that Walter and me never could find the right guys for our wailin R&B Band..We wanted guy’s like James Brown had in 1959 plus The Flames.. And in 1979 in San Francisco that just didn’t exist. So my lady and me with the two kids moved back to New York. My Father got us a cool little pad way up on the sixth floor above his little junk store. I was still trying to get a great band together..I knew in New York I’d have a better chance. I couldn’t find the right guy’s going into 1980 and got a gig with my o’l pal Paul Oscher. We gigged off and on for 2 -3 years. David Maxwell would come in from Boston to do these gigs just because he loved the music and Paul and me so much. There was some real good deep blues bein played. On drums we had Candy McDonald from Harlem. Candy had worked before with t-bone Walker and Big Mabelle. He was so so good!& Ola Ma Dixon who was also very good who was livin up in The Bronx. We NEVER unfortunately recorded. One film was made on us, but I NEVER got to see it. I don’t think it ever got made. Then Paul dropped out. From 1985-6 I finally put a group together with my man Brian Bisesi on guitar. I got my ol’ pal Danny Spurduto from The ol’ Blues Busters on drums and Brian got his ol’ pal Jimmy VaVino to play organ. Jimmy was a guitarist, but I saw him playin organ in a club and it was just fate that Brian knew him..They actually grew up together!.. We used Jimmy brother Jerry on tenor sax and a bass player I can’t remember. I was singin lead.And we had a MC ..Danny’s Brooklyn pal “Satch” The VaVino’s later on went to play on The conan o’Brain Show..There still with him. The name of this group was “Johnny Ace & The Atomics”. This group was good. We gigged mostly in New York City. And in between gig, Danny Dryer a Chicago guitarist who played off and on with Paul Oscher and me would call me to do gig’s at Tramps backin up all the greats Otis Rush took us to Europe.There’s a video of that floating around somewhere. Tramps was really great.as was Otis Rush. We’d back up Lowell Fulson, Fenton Robenson, Pine Top Perkins. I had money to do a session with our band The Atomics..It was all set up. Danny the drummer didn’t want to do the session. I was really hurt..And that ended the group. I needed Danny in there for that greese connection. With out Danny, I didn’t want the group. And that was the end of that. Brian and me then got Ola Dixon and we gigged as a trio called The House Rockers. We were the house band at Aberlines on 1st Ave. and 16th St. for about a year. There Brian would have the club fly all the Chicago guys in and we’d back em. Jimmy Rodgers,Johnny Little John, Hubert Sumlin, AC Reed. I got John Hamond & Charlie Musselwhite in there. All that music should have been videoed and recorded.Well it wasn’t. When we went in for a year at a club in The Village name Mondo Cane’. That was a real ball. We also played with Rosco Gorden a lot. He was really great in all way’s. we made a video that was never put out. His Family wouldn’t alow it. In these times David Maxwell my great friend and piano player would send me into Boston at a club named Back Stage”to back up John Hamond, Guitar Jr. and my favorite of all..Eddie Cleanhead Vinson. He was just about a genius. I loved playin with him. He was just so so great. In 1980 Walter Shufflesworth finally got his cool R&B band going The Dynatones. I was happy for him. I wanted to sing lead for them but he just hired a lead singer from Florida CC Miller so that ended that. They lasts 25 years..and a bunch of records.and they came close with Warner Brothers to “The Big Time”..but not close enough.. In 1987 my Family now a wife and four kids moved back to San Francisco. I was still lookin for that magic band. I got in San Francisco Oct 22,1987. It took me about 4 months to put a band together and it didn’t work. Johnny Nitro hired me in 1988 I don’t remember the month. I stayed with Johnny till 1991. The band had many different members, but it was a very good band. Always. Johnny & the band were goin to Italy, But paying to get there. I no way wanted to pay to play, I wrote a screen play that I thought I’d sell in about 2 months.and I’d be rich…I’m STILL tryin to sell it!!..Ha Ha! Johnny just passed on and I’m still nunb. Johnny was such a good person and character. He helped so many people with there music. Johnny was The King Of North Beach! in San Francisco. He’s very missed. We recorded one CD for The Saloon Lable.”Drinkin Triple’s Till Your Seein Doubles” In 1991 the late Stu Blank wizard showmen -keyboard player along with guitarist Victor Vocchi put a band together called “Blackie Jones’ This band was really good also..We went in the studio, but never made a recorded real record. We made a jam – party CD that you mentioned.In 1992 I made a CD with guitarist Paris Slim for the Mountain Top lable. Slim is a very fine player. Slim & Mt. Top made an instructional video on me teaching blues bass playing. I felt it wasn’t good enough for release so it was never put out. I don’t regret that one. From 1992 till NOW ..I’m every Sun. 4-8 at The Saloon in Norh Beach San Francisco with Blues Power. Apple Jack the lead singer I meet in 1969 at The Cafe Au Go Go in NY when he was with Elvin Bishop blowin harp and singin. As I think back on it.. Those 3 -4 nights Elvin was there really helped shape my life. Ron Bokavitch Blues Power’s guitarist is my dear-dear friend. A CD from blues Power should be out by 2012. In 1999 Apple got me a gig with Boz Scaggs R& B Review. I did two tours with that and it was fun.
Around mid 90’s you started a new music project called Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace.
In 1994 went with singer Cathy Lemons. I meet her in 1988 at a Nitro jam. I worked with her in 1993-4 in guitarist David Workmens band till we decide to live together and put a band together. In 1997 I got my ol pal John Lelie Nuzzo out of retirement and back in the blues. We made a CD in 1998 titled “In The Kitchen’.John very sadly passed on last Dec. He was one of my best friends.. Cathy and I are still together. We put out 2 CDs.The first in 1998 on The Saloon Lable named “Dark Roard” and the second On VIZZTONE titled “LEMONACE” On both of these our friends Tommy Castro and David Maxwell help out. Plus dear friends Paul Oscher, Rusty Zinn, Kid Anderson,Steve Feund,and Ron Thompson. Our band for the last 5 or 6 years has Pierre LaCorre on guitars and Artie Stix Chavez on drums. Where’s many videos and interviews of us on YouTube and our website. Where very proud of these musicians. The last 11 years I’ve been writing articles on blues and all my musical experiences for Detroits Big City Blues..Pick one up. Also for the last 3 years I’ve been writing for Golden Gate Grooves. It’s The San Francisco Blues society’s blues letter…Pick these up. I’m also a photographer. I’ve been trying to get my book published. You can go to our music website to see all this stuff at http://www.lemonace.com/ You can also visit me on Facebook..Be Well and with The Blues.
– Klemen Breznikar
  1. Anonymous

    It is way past time for an Johnny Ace interview; the man has been playing bass for any and all blues men and women in SF for years. His work with Kathy Lemons alone is astonishing. It doesn't matter the audience is a few tourists at Pier 47, blues fanatics at The Saloon on Grant, or a big crowd at a blues festival, Johnny adds a solid swinging bottom to any group and radiates enthusiasm. The City of San Francisco should erect a statue of its adopted son. Play on, Brother.

  2. bruce

    saw Johnny several times in SF-esp with John Leslie Blues Band-both very personalble guy's and very exciting players!

  3. Tropical Jon

    I met Johnny in the early 70s in Ann Arbor, MI when the Brooklyn Blues Busters were temporarily based there. BBB was a regular act at THE ODYSSEY bar (which I managed), as well as at every other hip venue in the area--Being ANN ARBOR, there were a lot of "hip" venues!!! I'd say that I am blessed (and proud) to have made his acquaintance and am able to consider him a friend...
    Jon "Tropical Jon" Campbell

  4. Mike and Carol Bundock

    A few years back at the Saloon in SF , we were sitting in the corner near the stage , Johnny was rippin ' away at the bass and his strap broke and sent the beautiful old fender flying, I grabbed the end just before it hit the floor, I made Johnny a new strap, and gave it to him the next week, I had a guitar repair biz at the time , my wife and I loved to go to the Saloon to see Johnny Ace ,Johnny Nitro, Sylvia, Daniel Castro, Burton Winn, and the famous Slide guitarist Freddy Roulette,We miss you Johnny and hope your well !

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