Sunday, June 23, 2013

Conrad Johnson and his Orchestra on Freedom 1501

The Conrad Johnson Orchestra (Conney's Combo), vocal L.C. Williams - Won't You Please Come Back / I Don't Want Your Baby (Freedom 1501) 

"Won't You Please Come Back" (vocal L.C. Williams)

Here's a fine slice of jump blues/jazz from Houston bandleader Conrad Johnson. Dating from late 1948, about a year after his debut on Gold Star (heard here), "Won't You Please Come Back" is chiefly notable for its "Flyin' Home"-inspired tenor sax solo. According to Leadbitter's Blues Records 1943-1966, this is Sam Williams, but Conrad played tenor in addition to his usual alto, so I'm wondering if it isn't him. The rest of the band here may include Jimmy Vincent, trumpet; Lonnie Lyons, piano; Nunu Pitts, bass; and Al Tucker, drums. L.C. Williams was a limited vocalist, but Conrad hired him for his stage presence, which mimicked Wynonie Harris and pleased the crowds.

Conney's Combo at the El Dorado Ballroom, Houston, c. late 1940s/early 1950s. L to R: Ed Harris? (baritone sax), Jimmy Vincent? (obscured) (trumpet), Liz Gray? (vocals), Sam Williams? (tenor sax), Al Tucker? (drums), Johnnie Mae Brown? (piano). 

For some reason lost to time, the record was also pressed on the Eddie's label with different versions of both songs, the A-Side retitled "Why Don't You Come Back," and no label credit given to the band. This could have been a pressing error but I suspect record company subterfuge is at work here. Even stranger, the record was bootlegged with very poor sound (obviously using the Freedom 78 as the "master") by the nefarious Swing Mfg. Company in Paris (retitled again as "Won't You Come Back Baby"). It kind of makes sense to bootleg national hit records (if you don't care about breaking the law), as Swing did a little later with Stick McGhee's "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee," but why bootleg a local release like this one? It's one more unsolved mystery in the Texas shellac biosphere.

     Below: the alternate release of "Won't You Please Come Back," now the "A" side, on Eddie's with no band credit. 

Below: the Swing bootleg of "Won't You Please Come Back," also the "A" side, mastered from a copy of the real Freedom 1501. 

Below: Ad for the Conrad Johnson Orch. from the Houston Informer, January 3, 1953.