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.”