Soul Serenade - Fantastic Johnny CMaybe I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. This has been one terrible year, and it’s only just begun. We have suffered terrible losses among the ranks of our favorite musicians, the level of political rancor in this country is ramping up to unprecedented, and frightening levels, and the weather is getting downright weird. It’s spring-like here in RI today, after two big snow storms last week, and unseasonably warm temperatures the week before that.

So what’s a guy to do? I don’t know about you, but I know what I’m going to do — I’m going to boogaloo.

He was born John Corley in Greenwood, S.C. He went to the local high school, but joined the military before graduation. After he got out of the service he moved to Norristown, P.A., where he operated heavy equipment. It was in Norristown that he joined a local gospel choir, and at one of the choir rehearsals he was spotted by a producer named Jesse James, who convinced Corley that he should give secular music a try.

James signed on as Johnny C’s manager, and got him gigs in nearby Philadelphia, opening shows for people like Sam Cooke, and Joe Simon. James also wrote a song specifically for Johnny C called “Boogaloo Down Broadway,” and brought in Leon Mitchell to arrange it. They recorded the song in Philadelphia in 1967, and some of the musicians that played on the record went on to form MFSB.

People who heard the record loved it. In fact, they thought it was fantastic. So when James got it released on the local Phil-L.A. of Soul label (say it to yourself, it’s fun), he made sure that the credit for the record went to The Fantastic Johnny C. The fantastic record boogalooed all the way up to #5 on the R&B chart, and #7 on the Pop chart in the autumn of 1967.

It was the beginning of a career that saw Johnny C having three more hits in 1968. First up was “Got What You Need,” which reached #32 R&B, and #56 Pop. Then “Hitch it to the Horse” (manager James had written and produced Cliff Nobles’ hit “The Horse”) went to #25 R&B and #34 Pop. Finally, Johnny C’s cover of “(She’s) Some Kind of Wonderful,” originally a hit for the Soul Brothers Six, managed to crawl into the Top 100 on the Pop chart.

The Fantastic Johnny C only ever released one album, Boogaloo Down Broadway, but it was a good one. He stayed with Phil-L.A. of Soul until 1970, when he moved on to Kama Sutra Records. He kept James on as a producer, and kept working with a lot of the same Philadelphia musicians, but subsequent recordings didn’t find any success, and Johnny C called it a career.

About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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