Monday, January 01, 2007

Sam & Bill

Spanish 45 Release
I was recently sorting out some magazines when I came across a copy of the first edition of Soul Music, a 60's UK magazine, which was run by Tony Cummings, Mick Brown and Dave McAleer.

In the magazine was an article about the Sam & Bill, one of my favourite 60's soul duos plus a review of a show they performed in the UK at the Streatham Locarno in 1967.I've always had a love of soul duos - Sam and Dave, Pic & Bill, Eddie & Ernie etc.

It would be interesting to plot the origins of the soul duo but obviously the success of Sam & Dave prompted many artists to join forces and emulate the "dynamic duo". I would put Sam & Bill up there with the best even though they only had 6 releases.

Though I read the Soul Music magazine article several times, I had forgotten that Sam & Bill had a change of line-up after their second 45. The original line-up was Sam Gary and Bill Johnson before Sam Gary left to be replaced by Sam Davis Jnr.

Bill Johnson was born in 1932 in Augusta, Georgia and he started singing in his local church choir because his parents were involved in the church. When he was 16, he formed his first gospel group The Four Harmonisers before moving into secular music a short time afterwards. He formed a 7-piece group called the Four Steps Of Rhythm who gigged around the Georgia area before branching out. By the early 50's, they had become the house band at the Orbit Lounge in Newark, New Jersey.

The group then moved to the South Carolinas playing one-nighters where Bill eventually met Sam Gary in Columbia. They began singing together and both ended up in a band called Clarence Perry and the Soul Brothers. Sam and Bill started making a noise locally enough to draw the attention of Johnny Nash who was in the process of setting up Joda Records with Danny Sims. They had a successful audition and recorded their first 45 for Joda "For Your Love" and "Beautiful Baby". The 45 was cut in New York in 1965 and reputedly featured Roscoe Robinson on guitar. A second session resulted in another release "Treat Me Right" during 1966 which was also issued by Pye International in the UK.

Sleeve courtesy of Nick Sands

Following the Joda releases, Sam Gary left the group and was replaced by Sam Davis Jnr who had already known both Bill Johnson and Sam Gary for 2 years. Sam Davis Jnr was born in Winston, South Carolina in 1940 and began singing in his local church. He continued singing on an amateur basis after leaving school with a group called the Invaders and Sammy and The Two Jays. He sang at talent shows and performed gigs as far as field as Washington and Alabama.

Bill Johnson and Sam Davis Jnr first recorded together in 1967 producing "I Feel Like Crying" and "I'll Try" in Greensborough using local musicians including Little Mac on organ, Bill Bright, Joe Nathan, John Tanner, Fred Tanner. Doug Tanner who was an independent producer shopped the sides to Decca and the side even got released by Brunswick in the UK.

At the time of the Soul Music article, Sam and Bill had not released their second 45 "I Need Your Love To Comfort Me" for Decca which had the same production credits as the initial 45 and presumably was recorded in Greensborough at roughly the same time. This 45 is featured below and was also released in Spain by Decca!

I Need Your Love To Comfort Me

Sam & Bill On Stage In UK 1967

During this period, Sam and Bill are supposed to have had a dynamite stage show which according to the reviewer Bill Millar in Soul Music was one of the best he had seen in the UK. Their show apparently consisted of an energetic gymnastic display to accompany their gospel fired vocals.

Their set consisted of "Hold On I'm Coming", "Shake", Yesterday", "I'll Try", Sweet Soul Music", and "Let It Be Me". The reviewer said they performed "as though they had been electrocuted" and their performance was on a par with James Brown in excitement. Their finale can be seen in the above photo where Bill carried off Sam after Sam had back somersaulted into Bill's arms while both were singing "I Feel Like Crying"!!! Apparently they came back on stage for an encore to ecstatic applause to reprise "I Feel Like Crying".

Courtesy of Nick Sands

Sam and Bill must have left Decca after 2 releases before signing up with the Capricorn label. I am not sure how Sam and Bill teamed up with Phil Walden's Macon, Georgia based Capricorn label. Sam was still an Augusta, Georgia resident in 1967 so it is possible that he kept in touch with the music scene in Georgia. It is also possible that Phil Walden knew of Sam & Bill from his time booking acts with his brother Alan. Phil Walden might also have been looking for another "Sam & Dave" given that the Waldens had managed the duo at one stage.

The Capricorn label was set up by Phil Walden and Frank Fenter in 1969 with the help of Jerry Wexler and was distributed by Atlantic's Atco imprint. Walden set up the studio on Cotton Avenue in Macon in an old slaughter house. Sam & Bill were among the first artists signed up along with Oscar Toney Jnr, Arthur Conley and Jerry Williams. Jackie Avery produced 2 great southern soul sides on Sam & Bill which are fitting testament to the singers.

Sam & Bill did go on to do a session for House Of Fox which may not have got a release and I have no details where it was recorded.

We are left wondering what happened to Sam and Bill and given the Georgia connection perhaps Brian Poust over at Georgia Soul might be able to help???


Joda 100 For Your Love/Beautiful Baby

Joda 101 Fly Me To The Moon/Treat Me Right

Decca 32143 I Feel Like Crying/I'll Try

Decca 32200 I Need Your Love To Comfort Me/Tryin' To Get Back To My Baby

Capricorn 8001 Who Will It Be/Thing's I'd Do

House Of Fox 9 Come On And Show Me/?


Nick Sands got back to remind that I had forgotten the House Of Fox 45. He tells me that he "only has 2 sided demo and the R&B Indies book is showing the same and it as the last release..... so maybe it wasn't actually released?" I have now amended the post above!

Nick also mentioned that Bill Johnson recorded a solo record:

Jocida 301 You got soul / It ain't never gonna die

I would imagine that this 45 was recorded prior to him hooking up with Sam Davis Jnr as it is recorded for Johnny Nash's Jocida label after the 2 Joda cuts. Johnny Nash later cut a reggae version for CBS.

Postcript 2

Mr Fine Wine played the Bill Johnson 45 "It Ain't Never Gonna Die" on his Dec 8th 2006 show - tune in to hear it again on the WFMU site


  1. Anonymous4:57 PM

    It may be a breach of confidence but I'd like to make a request. Please, could you activate the links to theses SAM & BILL singles. They bring exciting memories as a teenager.
    Anyway thanks for this site. Friendly regards from Portugalete.

  2. Hi there just to let you know that Bill Johnson is still alive and living in Augusta Georgia. I am his son James and I now live in Queensland Australia. My wife and I have been trying to find out as much as we can about my dad and Sams music we have been lucky enough to get a few 45's from the internet. I would dearly appreciate anything or anyone that you could put me in touch with somewhere that I could get some more information, records, magazines cutting etc as my Dad lost everything he had in a house fire. I have been gradually finding things and putting them together so that I can have a copy of my Fathers history in music as well as trying to get him what I can. He has not been very well lately. Following his footsteps in the singing and entrtainment business nothing would be a bigger honour that to be able to perform his songs or perhaps a remake of them so if you have suggestions let me know. I would be only to happy to keep in contact with you all. If you wish to let me know your details I am happy to also call you. Thanks for keeping their music alive and appreciating the great sounds of the past. My Dad Bill would be truly honoured and I will let him know what I have found out tonight. James

  3. Bill Johnson also cut the incredible rocker "You Better Dig It" b/w "The Right To Love" (Talos 402) circa 1959. Amazing stuff!

  4. James, if you happen to read this, please know that I'll be happy to record what I have by your father for him. I'm in Atlanta.

  5. Sam Davis, Jr. is my grandfather, and he died of cancer in 2003 in Augusta, GA. He is truly missed everyday by his family and close friends. I am not familiar with his music. My mother and I decided to look Sam and Bill up on the internet, and we found some beautiful, soulful music on YouTube. He was a great man! May his soul R.I.P.

  6. Anonymous4:37 PM

    I feel much the loss of material and also unable to provide any material. However, remember that sometimes I hear that "I need your love to comfort me" evoking the time of youth. In this way, your father will always be present. I think it's to be proud of him. Greetings.