Al Johnson's "Carnival Time" is as much a part of the Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans as parades, floats, and masked revelers. The song has reigned supreme during the city's celebratory season for four decades with only a handful of rivals, such as "Go to the Mardi Gras" from Professor Longhair. Johnson's composition and recording of the tune brought him fame, but not the hoped-for monetary rewards. Over the course of 40 years, the song didn't bring him a dime, although it did bring a good measure of heartache. At the time he recorded it, he had no knowledge of copyright laws and retained no rights to his music. "Carnival Time" was a smash, making a reappearance every Mardi Gras season since its release in 1960, but Johnson still struggled to support himself by working as a cab driver. Only much later did a federal court rule in Johnson's favor, and the rights to "Carnival Time" reverted to him. In an effort to regain some of that lost revenue, Johnson re-released "Carnival Time" as a single in CD form. He put the older song together with his newer "Mardi Gras Strut."
The New Orleans native was born Alvin Johnson and moved to Houston, TX, with his parents very early in his childhood. He was approximately seven years old when he took up the trumpet at the urging of his father, who loved music. Later he dabbled on the piano, sometimes attempting a Smiley Lewis song. Johnson and his family went home to Louisiana on January 1, 1949. As he grew up, he found work as a musician at various New Orleans nightspots. Local bandleader Edgar Blanchard told Johnson in the late '50s that producer Joe Ruffino had expressed a desire to record him. In 1958, Johnson went to Ruffino with a stack of songs that he'd penned, including "Carnival Time," "Lena," "Good Looking," and about five others. "Lena" was released in 1958, and two years later "Carnival Time" made an appearance. After the initial success of "Lena," Johnson approached Ruffino to inquire about getting some money from the proceeds of the release, only to learn that the producer believed that Johnson was in the hole to him for 11 dollars. ~ Linda Seida