Chairmen Of The Board – 1974 – Skin I’m In (Tribute to General Johnson)
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General Johnson was lead singer with The Showmen and later with the chart-busting Chairmen Of The Board. He was also an exceptional songwriter, penning and originally recording “Patches” (the huge Clarence Carter hit), “Want Ads” for Honeycone, and the Grammy-nominated “Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed” by 100 Proof Aged In Soul – among a slew of Chairmen Of The Board songs, most notably “Pay to the piper“. He also produced two excellent solo LPs.
General Johnson’s legacy is truly formidable and his recent passing will surely be a monumental loss to soul lovers the world over. In our tribute, we salute the General with arguably his finest album.
This is a @320 CD rip of the Sequel Records CD.
A1 Everybody Party All Night 4.05
A2 Skin I’m in 4.14
A3 Morning Glory 2.20
A4 Life and Death, Pt. 1 1.36
A5 White Rose (Freedom Power) 1.41
A6 Life and Death, Pt. 2 3.48
B1 Let’s Have Some Fun 3.51
B2 Love at First Sight 3.51
B3 Only Love Can Break a Heart 5.32
B4 Live with Me, Love with Me 2.08
B5 Finders Keepers 4.04
Tribute and Review by Trakbuv
I am very sad to report the loss of one of my singing heros, General Norman Johnson (23 May 1943 – 13 October 2010) following his struggle with lung cancer. His voice was an emphatic mix of Levi Stubbs, Clarence Carter and Jackie Wilson – conveying a unique tearful timbre to an instrument that carried you empathetically through his journey of song. And the importance of the General on my induction into soul cannot be stressed too greatly. I had saved up 8 weeks pocket money and ventured off to the local record shop to buy my first single. All my mates were into Mungo Jerry, so it was his poptastic “In the summertime” pressing on my lips when I entered the store. However, the board at the back clearly indicated it was out of stock, being a Top 10 crowd pleaser. And with all that money smouldering in my pocket, I decided to plump for number 31 in the charts instead. And upon the blue imprint of Invictus Records hitting the rubber deck, my love affair with soul was secured forevermore. “Everything’s Tuesday” blew a hole through me that only a certain type of music could ever fully satisfy.
Starting out as part of a gospel acapella group, the Israelites (ca.1949), General Johnson soon graduated to joining a school band, The Humdingers (ca.1956-1961). They went on to record 4 sides for Atlantic that never saw the light of day. But in 1961, they signed up to Minit Records, changed their name to The Showmen and got the green light from Al Toussaint to produce. They had several quality releases, with the tuneful ‘I will stand‘ scoring well (R&B = 40, Pop = 61) and sporting a beautifully maturing General. They then moved to Swan Records in 1965 where General Johnson released a solo effort, the busy pleaser ‘The Honey House‘. As a band they also released the superb ‘Our love will grow‘. Several labels later, and a seemingly comfortable turn on the Beach Music scene, General Johnson and Danny Woods were lured away by Holland-Dozier-Holland for a quartet they were forming at their Invictus Records baby. With the inclusion of Harrison Kennedy and Eddie Custis, Chairmen of the Board was born, also briefly known as The Gentlemen.
H-D-H found themselves on a crest of a wave with the Chairmen on the Board its flagship. ‘Give me a little more time‘ (R&B = 3, Pop = 8), ‘You’ve got me dangling on a string‘ (R&B = 19, Pop = 38), ‘Everything’s Tuesday‘ (R&B = 14, Pop = 38) and ‘Pay to the Piper‘ (R&B = 4, Pop = 13) were all incredible examples of melodic songs infused with mud-stained soul roots courtesy of the General spitting battery acid. However, following two very successful albums (‘The Chairmen Of The Board‘ and ‘In Session‘, both in 1970), the dream started to crack. Eddie Custis was becoming increasingly disheartened and left the group before their third LP, ‘Bittersweet‘ in 1972. General Johnson released a solo LP, ‘Generally Speaking‘ in March of 1971 that was comprised of new tracks interspersed with Chairmen re-runs. He had already released the fabulous double header ‘Savannah lady‘ b/w ‘I’m in love darling‘ on Invictus, so expectations were high for his debut 33. General Johnson himself did not appear overly smitten with the product -“I hated it and I wish they had never released it” !! – itself a clear indication that things were not “everything’s rosey since the day sweet Tuesday chose me”. Personally, I felt the originals were pretty darn neat, which included the outstanding ‘I never get tired you‘.
The relative failure of ‘Bitterwseet‘ was accompanied by the Invictus ship hitting troubled waters. A non-LP single, ‘Let me down easy‘ was also released that had all the hallmarks of a Greg Perry release. Indeed Greg, who had been so instrumental in forming a serendipitous songwriting relationship with the General, soon departed and Jeffrey Bowen (who had produced the Commodores ‘I feel sanctified‘) was drafted in as his replacement. Jeffrey’s influence proved to be immense, radically changing the direction of Chairmen of the Board and hinting to his sterling work yet to come with The Temptations on the ‘A song for you‘ LP. The lead single was the triumphant “Finder’s keepers“, reminiscent of early Commodores. It was met with a rapturous welcome from the public, attaining #7 R&B and #59 Pop. Amidst this fanfare was a solo single release by the General, ‘Only time will tell‘, a further string to the General’s bow, now giving Al Green a run for his money.
The “Skin I’m In” LP eventually materialised in 1974 long after the band had departed. It was most likely recorded around 1972 containing mainly General Johnson and Johnson/Bowen originals. As already stated, Jeffrey Bowen (and assorted P-funk members like Bernie Worrell and Eddie Hazel) virtually re-invented the Chairmen overnight. As the General put it :“We’d cut the tracks and then he’d start adding synthesisers to it. We’d just look and think, What ? Synthesisers !”. Listening to the opening track “Everybody party all night“, you can easily understand his reaction. However, I personally found the synthesizer intrusions to be a revelation. Choppy guitars, off kilter horns, trippy keyboards – we were definitely several star systems from their previous work, and definitely more than a dip into Sly Stone territory. The bluesy “Skin I’m In” is just perfect – the General was born to moan and this track really allows him that grace in spades. And then we have the immense and adventurous landscape that is basically Sly’s “Life and Death” in 4 movements – incorporating the instrumental segues “Morning glory” and “White Rose” – it’s a sort of Sergeant Pepper meets Sly Stone opus. Pure genius. “Let’s have some fun” is probably the most radio-friendly track on the LP, a gorgeous latinesque burner and deserving a much better reception from the public when released as a single. Next up, we have a triplet of slower material.
At this moment, I pause and wait for my heart to relax and the goosepimples to fade – and all in the simple anticipation of one of THE great love songs. For me, the General’s finest moment – I sit and compose myself once again for the overpowering majesty that is “Love at first sight“. If a gun was pointed at my temple and I had to perform one of those youtube singing mimes, this would have to be a strong contender. Exhausting. Far more relaxing is the Al Greenesque “Only love can break a heart“, taking the Gene Pitney whistling original and turning it onto a seriously sexy masterpiece. And when the rap hits with “I need some love that’s gonna stick to my ribs”, you’ll wish you had someone dangling in that moment. “Live with me” is more of the dreamy same, and we sign out with the aforementioned lead single, “Finders keepers“. What makes this album so exceptional for me is its inventiveness, boldness, and breadth of soundscapes – but most of all – it’s an incredible showcase for the diversity and power of General Johnson as a singer. I will end it here for those brave enough to have read this far. General Johnson brought out another excellent release in 1976 entitled simply “General Johnson”. Maybe I will rip my personal copy of this at a later date.
In the meantime, for those unfamiliar with “Skin I’m In”, please enter with an open mind. I hope, like me, you will find it working its magic and the General transfixing you with his unfathomable ability to turn your speakers into pulsating flesh, blood and tears.
101 DISTRIBUTION, released in 2009 a CD with this classic album along with their third album Bittersweet (1972) plus a bonus album the ultra rare Aries 1972 by group member Danny Woods, while the bonus tracks are the Chairmen singles issued after the release of Skin I’m In. All these albums have been unavailable for many years. The booklet is fully annotated by Tony Rounce, and features many rare singles labels. Support the company and the group by buying this excellent set from Amazon or your local records shops.