Johnny Bristol

Soul singer best known for 'Hang On In There Baby'
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The Independent Online

Best known in the UK for his evergreen 1974 No 3 hit single "Hang On In There Baby", Johnny Bristol was not only a soul singer with a great yearning voice but also a stalwart songwriter and producer at Tamla Motown throughout the Sixties and early Seventies.



John William Bristol, singer, songwriter, producer and arranger: born Morgantown, North Carolina 3 February 1939; twice married (one son, two daughters); died Howell, Michigan 21 March 2004.





Best known in the UK for his evergreen 1974 No 3 hit single "Hang On In There Baby", Johnny Bristol was not only a soul singer with a great yearning voice but also a stalwart songwriter and producer at Tamla Motown throughout the Sixties and early Seventies.

While at Hitsville USA, and even after the record label relocated from Detroit to California, Bristol worked with some of the biggest acts on Motown including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, Edwin Starr and Diana Ross and the Supremes who, in 1969, topped the American charts with "Someday (We'll Be Together)", a song he had co-written and recorded as part of the doo-wop duo Johnny and Jackey seven years earlier (Bristol was one of the backing vocalists and produced the revival).

In a four-decade career, Johnny Bristol also collaborated with Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Tavares and the Real Thing and duetted with the disco diva Amii Stewart on a revival of "My Guy/My Girl" which made the British Top Forty in 1980.

Born in Morgantown, North Carolina, in 1939, Bristol admitted he

got into show business by accident, pure accident. I joined the air force in the 1950s and I was stationed at Fort Custer, in Battle Creek, near Detroit. In the force I met a guy named Jackey Beavers. We found we both dug singing and formed a duo. We called ourselves Johnny and Jackey.

The doo-wop partners played shows in the Detroit area and attracted the attention of Gwen Gordy, the sister of the Motown mogul Berry Gordy; she became their manager and released their first two singles, "Lonely & Blue" and "Hoy Hoy", in 1960 on her Anna label. When she struck up a relationship with Harvey Fuqua - the leader of the Moonglows whom she later married - they set up Tri-Phi Records and issued the Johnny and Jackey singles "Carry Your Own Load", "Someday (We'll Be Together)" and "Baby Dontcha Worry", which became regional hits but failed to break through nationally because of poor distribution.

Johnny and Jackey broke up in 1962 and Bristol looked around for a new job:

After I starved a little, I got involved with the Motown situation. I knew Lamont Dozier, he was Lamont Anthony for a while in the doo-wop days with Harvey Fuqua, and they both helped me get in there.

While at Tamla Motown, Bristol became staff arranger and songwriter for Jobete, the label's publishing arm. Effectively Fuqua's right-hand man, he would go on the road to offer advice and report on the acts' live appearances and work on new songs and production. He played an even more important role after marrying Iris, one of Berry Gordy's nieces.

In particular, Bristol and Fuqua helped develop the careers of Marvin Gaye, producing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", his 1967 duet with Tammi Terrell, and of Junior Walker and the All Stars, who scored with their "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" in 1969. The saxophonist and his group used to back Johnny and Jackey and re-recorded their "Do You See My Love (For You Growing)", which made the US Top Forty in 1970.

Three years later, Bristol became in-house producer at Columbia Records. He helped Boz Scaggs create his blue-eyed soul template on the album Slow Dancer (1974).

Keen to record again, Bristol signed to MGM as a solo artist and scored a bull's-eye with his composition "Hang On In There Baby". "When I heard the final thing, I flipped!" recalled Bristol of the recording:

You see, after I'd finished putting down the vocal, . . . we spent a lot time sweetening the track, getting the strings and the girl chorus integrated into the sensuous feeling I wanted . . . Sometimes, you can tell a new recording's a hit. With "Hang On In There Baby", I could taste it.

The single became one of the major hits of 1974 while an album, Hang On In There Baby, charted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bristol issued two excellent follow-ups, "You and I" and "Leave My World", before switching to Atlantic Records in 1976 for his last US solo hit, "Do It To My Mind", and the albums Bristol's Crème and Strangers which have since become rare groove classics. That same year, the Osmonds had a British No 1 single with "Love Me for a Reason". a Bristol composition. In 1985, he returned to Motown to produce "I'm Ready for Love" on the Four Tops' Magic album.

Johnny Bristol subsequently revisited some of his songwriting highlights for Ian Levine's Motor City, a British label which paid tribute to Tamla Motown.

Pierre Perrone

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