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Fred Johnson

The severe loyalty of doo wop fans toward the Marcels of Pittsburgh has ensured respected status for this unique bass vocalist, if not kept him totally seperate from other performers named Fred Johnson. A baritone singer named Richard Knauss gets the credit for forming the original Marcels out of the original seed pod of himself and Johnson, planting the idea almost immediately after hearing Johnson sing for the first time. As the group came together several tenors were added -- one nicknamed "Bingo"--and the illustrious Cornelius Harp became lead singer, his Marcel hairstyle providing a name for the fledglilng combo.

Everyone involved was still in high school when the group began rehearsing. This original Marcels formation was split almost evenly racially and began practicing cover versions of a variety of current doo wop hits. It was an example of such a performance that was taped as a demo for the Colpix label, inspiring one of the firm's producers to literally sneak the group into a studio during some unused time at the close of another session. The talent of Johnson and cohorts is certainly evident from the fact that a superb version of "Blue Moon" was finished in two takes and sounded good enough for disc jockey Murray the K to spin more than two dozen times during one program. Johnson's bizarre bass intro, actually considered out of synch with the day's musical trends, is almost certainly the side's most outstanding characteristic.

Elvis Presley himself was shoved out of a top chart spot by this runaway hit, The Marcels appropriately losing its own kingpin status to none other than Del Shannon's "Runaway" a few weeks later. "Blue Moon" became a huge international hit and its follow up was a crafty though less successful version of "Summertime". The shift in membership typical of these sorts of ensembles resulted in the Marcels becoming a brother band briefly when sibling Alenn Johnson provided the mortar for an open tenor slot, replacing Gene Bricker. This brother was soon gone as well but Fred Johnson stayed on, by 1964 assuming leadership of the group. A decade later, the Marcels was still making new recordings yet had shifted performing activities over to the \oldies] circuit. By the '90s Johnson's original partners in the group were either dead or retired from the music business, but he he has continued combing out new versions of The Marcels. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
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