al johnson

Elvans Road LTD.

Elvans_Road_LTD
Mike Dean, Tyrone Thomas, Elliot Adams, Michael Jones, Claude Hodges, Freddie Ross, Keith Holmes, and Buddy Green (l-r) on Elvans Rd. SE.
Can I – Elvans Road LTD.

Marshall Hall was an amusement park in Charles County, Maryland that Washingtonians traveled to by ship every summer from the early 1900s through 1980. The ship, later known as the Wilson Line, featured live performances including Elvis Presley’s only show in the District. In the 1970s the Wilson Line was a venue for national acts such as Funkadelic and local bands including The Matadors.

The Matadors were a band from Southeast DC, primarily from Anacostia High School and Ballou High School. They played popular music at churches, military bases, and non-commissioned officer clubs, and later the Wilson Line, The Panorama Room, and the Washington Coliseum with groups including The Young Senators, EU, Distance, Trouble Funk, and Leadhead. The Matadors played a variety of genres including songs by Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and James Brown.

Unfortunately for group there was already a funk band from St. Louis, IL called Bull & The Matadors so they changed their name to Elvans Road LTD. after the location of their band house. In 1976 Elvans Road LTD.—Michael Zakee Jones, Tyrone Thomas, Roosevelt Smith, Mike Dean, Paul Wilkerson, and Vernon Cooper—recorded two tracks at American Star Recording Studios in Merrifield, VA: the instrumental “Summer-Free-Fo-All” and “Can I,” written by keyboardist Smith with vocals by Thomas. The record was produced by future go-go icon Maxx Kidd on his Cherry Blossom Records Inc. and arranged by Al Johnson.

“Summer-Free-Fo-All” received minor airplay on WOL but it wasn’t enough for Elvans Road LTD. to gain traction. Ultimately the group split up after several members left to perform with Leadhead.

Michael Zakee Jones continued in music, eventually joining Symba, which scored a Billboard Hot R&B charts hit with “Hey You” in 1981, written by the former Elvans Road LTD. member. Currently Jones performs with Jimi Smooth & Hit Time, which also features Jimi Smoot from The El Corols Band & Show and George “Jackie” Lee from Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

In Memory: Terry Huff

The first time I heard Terry Huff and Special Delivery‘s album “The Lonely One” I was astonished by the unparalleled pitch of Huff’s falsetto voice. It was beautiful. I read more about Huff in Ted Scheinman’s excellent 2010 piece, “Terry Huff’s Lost Soul,” and got his contact info from the author. We met at Huff’s daughter’s house and and he was game for the shoot, even when neighbors informed us we were standing in poison ivy. When I left he sang a bit of a new song he was working on and his voice sounded as good as ever.

I knew Huff had cancer and was saddened to learn about his death a few months later. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to meet him. His voice was undoubtedly one of a kind and “I Destroyed Your Love” is one of my top 10 favorite songs of all time.

This post is in memory of Terry Huff.

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I Destroyed Your Love Part 1 – Terry Huff & Special Delivery

Terry Huff started singing on Capitol Hill street corners with his brother Andy and friends from the neighborhood as a teenager. Discovered by John “Johnny Boy” Katsouros, Andy and The Marglows recorded four singles on Liberty Records—“Superman Lover,” “Just One Look,” “I’ll Get By” and “Symphony” in 1963.

Huff became a DC police officer in 1969 but in 1973 quit the force and delved into songwriting. He met George Parker, Reginald Ross, and Chet Fortune of DC vocal group Act One through a friend. In 1975 they released the single “I Destroyed Your Love” on Mainstream Records under the name Special Delivery and Huff’s limitless falsetto helped propel the record around the country.

Terry Huff and Special Delivery released the LP “The Lonely One” on Mainstream Records in 1976, which featured many of the songs Huff wrote after leaving the police force including “I Destroyed Your Love,” “Where There’s A Will (There’s A Way),” and the title track. The late Al Johnson arranged and conducted the record and Huff sang lead on all of the songs while Parker, Ross, and Fortune performed background vocals. Unfortunately Terry Huff and Special Delivery split up prior to the record’s release. Huff and his brothers Andrew and Jimmy, who sang background on “The Lonely One,” tried to secure a new deal with Philly International Records but were unable to due to legal complications.

Huff was seldom heard from thereafter. In 2010 writer Ted Scheinman, who lived near Huff, wrote “Terry Huff’s Lost Soul,” a cover story about Huff for the Washington City Paper, shining a spotlight on the DC soul legend once again while revealing that he had been homeless and had cancer. Despite his illness Huff planned a return to music and secretly performed at Open Mic Night at the Channel Inn’s “Engine Room.”

Huff sadly passed away in December 2012 at age 65 before he could attempt a comeback. In January 2013 a concert featuring Peaches & Herb, Skip Mahoney and The Casuals, Al Johnson, The Winstons, The Choice Four, and Special Delivery helped raise money for his funeral. You can purchase Terry Huff and Special Delivery‘s music here.

Most of the content for this article is from Ted Scheinman’s City Paper cover story.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Al Johnson

Court Of Love – The Unifics

Al Johnson moved from Newport News, Virginia to Washington, DC in 1965 to study architecture at Howard University. He quickly found himself in over his head and as a self taught vocalist and pianist, gravitated toward music. Johnson formed a vocal group called Al and The Vikings with childhood friend Tom Fauntleroy and three other Howard students, which manager Guy Draper later changed to The Unique Five. Eventually the five dropped to four and they became The Unifics.

In 1967 The Unifics recorded “Court of Love” in New York City with a local studio band and with arrangement by renowned singer-songwriter and musician Donny Hathaway. Written by Draper, “Court of Love” reached #25 as a single on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also appeared on their LP “Sitting In At The Court Of Love,” released on Kapp Records, a subsidiary of MCA.  In 1968 The Unifics also recorded and released “The Beginning of My End,” which reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Based on the strength of those releases and other recordings The Unifics toured across the country East of the Mississippi River from 1968-1972, showcasing Johnson’s passionate vocals and the group’s distinctive choreography. During that time, Johnson began writing his own material including their final single, “Dawn of a New Day (In My Life).” When The Unifics broke up over tension related to not having signed with a record label, Johnson was ready to embark on a solo recording career. Johnson recorded three solo albums, “Peaceful (1978),” “Back For More (1980),” and “My Heart is an Open Book (1999),” and produced music for artists such as Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, and Positive Change.

In 2004 Johnson reunited with Fauntleroy and recruited two new members to The Unifics, releasing “Unifics Return.” Johnson sadly passed away in October 2013 at 65.

Will Smith, Faith Evans, Flesh-N-Bone, and Big Remo have sampled The Unifics and Al Johnson.

You can purchase The Unifics‘ music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.
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