Monthly Archives: December 2013

Erik Johnson

Erik Johnson

The World Today – 95th Congress

On Maine Avenue SW past the hustle and bustle of the Maine Avenue Fish Market, the Channel Inn Hotel’s Engine Room hosts a weekly Open Mic. The evening has attracted such Washington, DC icons as Marion Barry, The Young Senators’ Jimi Dougans, and the late soul singer Terry Huff. Erik Johnson, former drummer for the band 95th Congress, originated Open Mic.

Johnson started playing the drums when he was 11 years old. He met two Federal City College students when he was in junior high school who brought them into their band Flavors of Soul. Producer Van McCoy became interested in Flavors of Soul and changed their name to 95th Congress, adding them to a small selection of groups with political names under his wing. 95th Congress performed in clubs and cabarets around DC alongside groups like The Young Senators, The Soul Searchers, One Hundred Years Time, and Brute and in the Virginia and West Virginia Chitlin’ Circuit. In 1971 95th Congress—Brothers Erik and Rudy Johnson, Ron Galvez, Rocknell Swilling, Gary Corum, Dan Adams, and Victor Green—recorded McCoy’s “Fiddle De De,” and Rudy Johnson’s “The World Today,” at Rodel Studio in Georgetown. Swilling sang lead on “Fiddle De De” and the group and McCoy performed vocals on “The World Today.”

Sussex Records released the recordings to little fanfare and then 95th Congress ran into some bad luck. First they fell out of favor with McCoy after they showed up late to an important gig with Isaac Hayes and then they had all of their equipment stolen. Together the incidents caused the band to break up.

Johnson remained in music after the dissolution of 95th Congress. He played with The Orioles and the Heavy Weather Jazz Orchestra and in the late 1980s started Open Mic at the Channel Inn Hotel with his band Natural Selection. In 2001 Johnson released “Dancin’ Shoes,” his first solo album. Johnson eventually had to depart Natural Selection due to health issues but he still writes music and teaches piano lessons at the Bladensburg Community Center.

“It’s a God given talent,” says Johnson. “And once you get in you never give it up. And that’s my plan, never give it up.”

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul

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(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind – Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul

Sometimes you have to fake it to make it. Joe Quarterman told a white lie to his junior high school music instructor at Shaw Junior High School when he said that he could play trumpet, but thankfully he was a fast learner. Quarterman was still at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School when he joined the El Corols Band and Show as a trumpet player and a recent graduate when he toured with The Magnificent Seven. A budding songwriter, Quarterman had a burning desire to record and perform independently from the group. In 1963 Quarterman released his first of several 45s under the management of Baltimore singing duo Gene and Eddie as Sir Joe and The Maidens—“Pen Pal”/”Jivin Gene” on Lenox Records. Quarterman released several other singles as Sir Joe and Sir Joe and The Maidens but nearly called it quits when some Washington Redskins players stole the members of his new band, Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul, for their short-lived singing group. Quarterman found new members for Free Soul through the help of his brother—Gregory Hammonds on bass, Allen Stewart on drums, George “Jackie” Lee on guitar (pictured with Quarterman from left to right), Charles Steptoe on drums, Karissa Freeman on keyboards, and Leon Rogers on saxophone.

Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul recorded their self-titled debut LP on GSF Records, a subsidiary of ABC Paramount Records in 1973. The bandleader presented a sketch of his idea for the album the cover—the group breaking through all the troubles of America—but instead of commissioning a photo shoot the label printed the original sketch on the cover. The album’s single (I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” reached the Billboard R&B top 100 and the cover ultimately appeared in the book “The Greatest Album Covers Of All Time.” Sir Joe Quaterman & Free Soul later released the singles “Thanks Dad” and “I’m Gonna Get You” on GSF Records and “Get Down Baby,” which also reached the Billboard R&B top 100 and “I’m A Young Man” on Mercury Records, but Quarterman didn’t attain the level of success he was hoping for and attended the University of Maryland to study architecture shortly after.

Encouraged by a renewed interest in their music decades later, Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul released the album “They Want Funky Music” in 2003 and toured France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. “(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” was featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and numerous advertisements and Daptone Records’ Charles Bradley covered “No Time For Dreaming,” an outtake from Quarterman’s GSF Records demo, for his 2011 debut album of the same name. Quarterman continues to perform today and will be releasing a new album, “Alive N’ Well,” on January 15. Guitarist Lee performs with Free Soul and also with Jimi Smooth & Hit Time.

Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul have also reissued their debut LP with b-sides and rare earlier materiel, which you can purchase here.

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Design by Jessica Ellis

Mmm, mmm, mmm.
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