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Chairmen Of The Board

Danny Woods   General Johnson    Ken Knox

Interview with The Chairmen Of The Board 

What do Martin Luther King Jr. & The Chairmen Of The Board have in common? Both have had a considerable impact on racism and/or the perception of black Americans. That may seem like hyperbole but the truth is the goodtime R & B of General Johnson & the Chairmen served as a common denominator between blacks and whites during some trying times. Of course the same can be said of many black and white artists but certainly in the Carolinas the Chairmen brought the people together with "beach music", where all races could "shag" together (um, it's a dance).

 Born and raised in Norfolk, VA, General Johnson formed his first vocal group, the Humdingers, when he was 12. But his first record came as the Showmen. "It Will Stand", written by Johnson, hit #61 on the pop charts in 1962. The group was a hit on the Beach Music circuit consisting of North & South Carolina, Virginia, George and Tennessee. Johnson eventually left the Showmen in 1968 and signed with former Motown producers and songwriters, Holland-Dozier-Holland, for the Invictus label. The producers put together a vocal quartet called the Gentlemen with Johnson, Danny Woods; ex-Stone Soul Children Harrison Kennedy; and Eddie Curtis.

Danny Woods   General Johnson    Ken Knox

 

Changing their name to The Chairmen Of The Board, their very first single, "Give Me Just a Little More Time" quickly shot to #3 on the pop charts! They followed this with a string of hits like "(You've Got Me) Dangling on a String", "Everything's Tuesday", "Pay to the Piper", "Chairman of the Board" & "Finder's Keepers" before hitting a dry spell. Nevertheless, Johnson's songs became hits for the likes of Clarence Carter ("Patches"), Freda Payne ("Bring The Boys Home"), and Honey Cone ("Want Ads," "Stick Up," "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show"). General was nominated and won BMI's "R&B Songwriter of the Year Award".

Eddie and Harrison left the group Danny asked Ken Knox to join the horn section of the Chairmen's band for a European tour. The band ended up spending six to eight months a year in Europe from 1973 through 1975. Ken eventually moved into the front line, helping with vocals. The Chairmen of the Board split in 1976 with each member releasing solo albums. Johnson and Woods continued performing under the Chairmen name for a short time before Johnson moved to Arista in the late '70s before reuniting with Woods as the Chairmen in the early '80s. Johnson started his own label with Mike Branch in 1979 and over the next two decades the Chairmen Of The Board have released 7 studio albums plus a host of compilations as leaders of the timeless "Beach Music" scene.

 

chairmen of the board Danny Woods   General Johnson    Ken Knox

The Chairmen are currently breaking into the 'Southern Soul" market with their excellent new CD "All In The Family Southern Soul", featuring the smash hits "Three Women" & "The Blacker The Berry". In this enlightening interview we learned how times have changed for the better in the "beach music circuit" since the turbulent 60s and the relationship between "Beach Music" and "Southern Soul". One thing was obvious: These gentlemen genuinely like each other and the rapport is a delight to witness, from charming anecdotes about their years together and plenty of good-natured humor.

 

BC = Blues Critic

General = General Johnson

Danny = Danny Woods

Ken = Ken Knox

 

BC = Firstly, you have a hit CD out called "All In The family Southern Soul". It's a reworking of the previous LP "All In The Family". Why did you add "Southern Soul" to the title?

General = It was originally recorded for the beach music crowd but it didn't have the grit needed for Southern Soul so we reworked some of the songs so now we have 1 version for the beach music and 1 for Southern Soul.

BC = "The Blacker The Berry" is an instant classic and is currently number 1 on the Southern Soul/R & B chart. What was the inspiration for this song?

General = Yeah a lot of people wanted to know why like it wouldn't go over in the Caucasian market. But this song is very important to me. The song is about uplifting black women and not putting down women of other ethnic groups. A lot of people like the rappers have given the wrong impression about black women.

BC = You mean the whole "bitches" & "hoes" pimp thing?

General = Yeah I felt it was a time to sing a song that represents how black men really feel about black women, mothers, sisters, grandmothers, friends. I'm really proud of this song because it uplifts black women.

BC = "Three Women" is still going strong on radio. Has that become a big request at your shows?

General = Not really because we haven't worked a lot of predominantly black audiences. Most of the audience is Caucasian...We do outdoor concerts in the summer for audiences between eight to fifteen thousand people. In the audience there might be 10 or 15 black people. Blacks haven't been exposed to the fact that Beach Music is Rhythm & Blues music. I'll let Danny talk about that song since he's the one who sang it.

Danny = This is "Dan the Party Man" (they all laugh). You know I couldn't even tell my wife the name of that song ("Three Women"). But we were just adding a little humor. It's a fun song. It was the first release in the Southern Soul market

southern soul electric slide single

 

BC = What's the story with "Southern Soul Electric Slide"? Who are 'Team Airplay Allstars"? I understand it was really you guys.

(editor's note- "Team Airplay" is lead by Mike Austin and Al "Luv" Jenkins)

General = Some promoter wanted to release "Electric Slide" so I went in the studio and recorded it. The artist is actually C.C. (Carolina Connection). If you look really close you can see that on the cover. It's real small (laughs). We're all on it along with some other people and we are doing another dance CD on C.C..

BC = Don't you wish you would've just put your name on it since it was such a smash!?

Ken = (laughs) Yes but we didn't know. That's General singing the lead.

BC = Really? It doesn't even sound like him?

General = Yep, that's one of my altar egos. But yeah Team Airplay had a lot of success with it.

 

The Showmen 

 The Showmen

BC = Now you (General) were in the Showmen, right?

General = We were just some neighborhood guys who got a chance to record. "It Will Stand" was about Rock N' Roll and it was #1 in DetroitMichigan. Dick Clark of American Bandstand said it was the anthem of Rock N' Roll.

BC = You also had a hit with "39-21-46". Is that based on a real woman?

General = Well that was one of the first songs I wrote so it was from the eyes of a 14 or 15 year old little guy. It's actually "forty shape" not "46" but on the title there was a mistake and they liked the idea. It was big regionally.

BC = Are "Carolina Girls" really the best?

Danny = Well come down here and see (laughs). You know when I first came here there was no style. You know you had the New York girls, California girls and they all got the attention. Even songs about them. And that just made Carolina girls feel like nothing but there's quite a difference between Carolina girls now and then. There self esteem just magnified after that song.

Ken = Girls became prideful. High schools and colleges use that song. Marching bands play "Carolina Girls". It's on T-shirts and we're glad about that. It's the all time biggest Carolina Beach song now.

BC = General, you wrote "Patches" which became a huge smash for Clarence Carter. But the Chairmen recorded it first. How come you didn't release it as a single?

General = I wanted to. DJs were begging for it but my bosses at that time- you know that came from the old Motown thing: "No beat. Don't release it". They liked the song but said "I can't dance to it" so they didn't release it. I have no regrets it got me a Grammy as a songwriter.

chairmen Of The Board

 

BC = How do you feel about the overall relationship with Holland/Dozier/Holland/Invictus records?

General = We had our differences of course. I was fortunate for the success but I was able to realize the contracts I signed made it so I was unable to reap the full benefits of my success. As a businessman I understand that's their prerogative. It was my prerogative to renegotiate my contract with them too but they refused.

BC = Eddie & Harrison left the group after that. I've read that, originally, they patterned the Chairmen after the Four Tops?

General = The songs they (HDH) wrote resembled Four Tops but the four of us were really individual artists. Danny was R & B. Harrison was Rock N' Roll and Eddie was like Johnny Mathis so we could cover any room that would have us. Each individual had a chance to shine. But Eddie wasn't accepted in 4/5 of the venues. He'd be a big hit in Vegas but if he sang "My Way" at the Apollo it was time to go get some popcorn.

BC = So after they left Ken entered the picture?

Ken = The Chairmen was one of my favorite groups. I was playing with my group one day and Danny came in the club and heard us playing. So I found out and basically announced "Danny Woods is in the house". We had the whole place rockin' and Danny was looking for a new backup band for the Chairmen.

BC = Is that true, Danny, were they really rockin' the joint?

Danny = (laughs) Oh yeah I knew right then there was gonna be magic between me, General and Ken. They have real love for the music and we just came together on that. I feel that each of us love what we do. For me I get inspiration off each of these guys. When general sings 'Patches"- that's one of my favorite songs. It reminds me of gospel music. They just don't let up.

BC = General went solo for a while and had some hits with Arista Records but then you guys got back together?

General = Yeah during that time everybody was into disco but these people (Carolina) were into the R & B music we love. Still do today from 8 to 80 years old but our strongest following is college kids.

BC = You started your own label, Surfiside, and have become legends of "Beach Music". How would you describe "Beach Music" to those not familiar with the term?

General = I'll put it this way. If you like "My Girl" by the Temptations you like "beach music". It's really R & B with crossover appeal. The foundation of beach music is Southern Soul. that's what it was back when it was catching on. Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd you name it. Stax, Atlantic. Let's not forget Motown they made it more palatable to Caucasians. Carolina Beach music is soul music.

BC = What do you think about that movie guy ruining the term "shag"?

General = (laughs) Yeah in England it means something else. The dance called "The Shag" is the proclamated official dance of South Carolina. It was originated by black people as "The Bop". It's part of the culture. Beach Music is part of the culture- for everybody.

Danny = When we do outside cities we have a mixture of 50/50 white/black in the audience. But "The Shag" is the dance everybody does.

Ken = We don't want to sound like dinosaurs but there's exhibits in museums. You got one for Charlie Daniels that represents country music. One for Michael Jordan that represents basketball and one for Chairmen Of The Board representing Beach Music.

General = In Virginia music is no joke. We have thrived in Virginia, North & South CarolinaTennessee, Georgia. people thought we were dead but we've been blessed here doing 150 to 200 shows a year.

cotb

BC = How have your guys managed to stay together for all this time?

Danny = We love what we do. Like I said I get inspiration from these guys.

General = Beach Music is about feeling. It's been an inspiration and I'm proud to say it's changed the way people think. I'm not bragging but when I first came down here it was a prejudiced environment. Our music has wiped that away. I used to hear the "N word" from the audience when I'd sing "Patches" in east Carolina. But the way we present the music. The way we present ourselves has given them a different outlook about black people. I'm sure Michael Jordan, who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, got called the "N word" but by the way he carried himself. It changes the outlook people have.

BC = Some people feel that Caucasians have really embraced and blues and soul these days while the black audience is into rap. Is that true?

General = Oh they have. Just look at our audience our music has brought people together. Whites like soul and blues music. Rap is real big. But that's mostly the younger people. The older (black) people still listen to R & B. You know you are physically what you eat. Mentally you are what your mind absorbs. If that's all you hear on the radio over and over again that's what you like. Today music is more about the beat but it used to be about the feeling- music that puts chill bumps on your arms. Now I got nothing against a black man making money but a song to me is one you can whistle, a melody, with lyrics that touches the emotions. A lot of people don't have the opportunity to hear our music.

BC = So what is next for the Chairmen?

General = Well our challenge is Southern Soul. To break in to that market. We aren't just one song and out. This album has a lot of good songs on it. We are gonna keep going. You know the other night we did a show. It had a capacity of 800 but they allowed over 1,000 people inside and a long waiting line was outside. The show was from 8-11 but at 1:00 AM they were still there dancing. Long live soulful rhythm and blues music!!! 


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(C) 2018. All written material found on this website is the property of Blues Critic and may only be used with permission and full accreditation (either "Blues Critic" or "Dylann DeAnna of Blues Critic") and link to this website.