The Chairmen Of The Board
Not At The Beach
August 15, 2020
The Chairmen of the Board were a group formed in Detroit in 1968 by General Norman Johnson.
The General was born in Norfolk, Virginia, as General Norman Johnson, and, as with many of his contemporaries, honed his vocal skills in the church choir.
At the age of 12 years, he formed his first group, called The Humdingers, which featured: Norman Johnson (lead), Gene 'Cheater' Knight (first tenor), Dorsey 'Chops' Knight (second tenor), Leslie 'Fat Boy' Felton (baritone) and Milton 'Smokes' Wells (bass).
The group released four singles for the Atlantic imprint during 1956.
'It Will Stand' - 1964 / The Showmen - Norman Johnson, Gene Knight, Dorsey Knight, Leslie Felton and Milton Wells
He later formed the Showmen (using the name Norman Johnson), during his senior year in high school, recording the songs 'It Will Stand', (which became a minor hit in 1961), and '39-21-46'. The latter song was actually titled “39-21-40 Shape” but when creating the label, the technician misheard the lyrics.
The Showmen recorded for several labels, including Minit, Lawn, Imperial and Swan Records, and featured: Johnson, Gene Knight, Dorsey Knight, Leslie Felton and Milton Wells.
The Showmen (with Norman Johnson) continued to perform and record up until 1968, when the Chairmen Of The Board came into being.
The group was known as The Gentlemen for a short period around this time.
The original Chairmen Of The Board line-up included Danny Woods (ex: Showmen), Eddie Curtis (ex: Lee Andrews and the Hearts & Huey Smith and the Clowns) and Harrison Kennedy (ex: Stone Soul Children).
The group signed to the Holland/Dozier/Holland imprint, Invictus, and scored immediate success with several charting 45's.
These tunes included:
'Give Me Just A Little More Time' (released in December 1969, UK Top 5, 1970),
'You've Got Me Dangling On A String' (UK Top 5, 1970),
'Everything's Tuesday' (UK Top 20, 1971),
'Pay To The Piper' (UK Top 40, 1971),
'Chairman Of The Board' (UK Top 50, 1971),
'Working On A Building Of Love' (UK Top 20, 1972),
'Elmo James' (UK Top 25, 1972),
'I'm On My Way To A Better Place' (UK Top 30, 1973) and
'Finders Keepers' (UK Top 25, 1973).
The band stopped recording in 1971, which led to a parting of the group.
In 1972, they re-formed and toured throughout the Southeast beach music circuit.
During the group's career, General Johnson penned songs for various artists including Clarence Carter ('Patches', which was originally recorded by the Chairmen), Freda Payne ('Bring the Boys Home'), and Honey Cone, ('Want Ads', 'Stick Up', 'One Monkey Don't Stop No Show').
The Chairmen Of The Board again discontinued as a group in 1976, with the General signing to the Arista label for a couple of solo albums.
In 1978, General Johnson reformed the Chairmen of the Board along with Danny Woods and Ken Knox, becoming a major group on the beach music scene.
In 1980, the latest incarnation of the Chairmen Of The Board founded Surfside Records (based in Charlotte, North Carolina) and issued the album "Success" that contained several beach music classics.
Probably the most famous song is "Carolina Girls." It was written by J.D. Shropshire Jr. (November 14, 1942 – February 24, 2001). During the time the song was written in 1973, he was going to college at a Barber School in Raleigh, N.C. (Neither he nor any of his family members ever received any money from his song.). It was released as a single by Surfside Records and topped the Beach Music chart, although it failed to make the pop chart. The song has persisted over the years to become a part of the North and South Carolina culture and remains a radio and live performance favorite. The song also inspired the book Carolina Girls by Steven Brown.
In an interview with Blues Critic, Danny Woods was asked if Carolina girls really are the best and explains:
Well the song was actually originally written by: J.D. Shropshire Jr. from Forest City, N.C. and when I first came here (The Carolinas) 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. Their self-esteem just magnified after that song.
Ken Knox added:
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.
The group continued to issue albums for the next 30 years. They remained a major draw at beach music shows. On a personal note, I saw them at a club in Augusta, Georgia during Masters Week sometime in the 1980s. It was an awesome show. Here's a list of their most popular songs (in no particular order):
As the Chairmen Of The Board:
Give Me Just A Little More Time (Invictus Records 1969)
In Session (Invictus Records 1970)
Men Are Getting Scarce (Bittersweet) (Invictus Records 1972)
Skin I'm In (Invictus Records 1974)
As General Johnson And The Chairmen Of The Board:
Success (Surfside Records 1980)
A Gift Of Beach Music (Surfside Records 1982)
The Music (Surfside Records 1987)
What Goes Around Comes Around (Surfside Records 1993)
Timeless Volume 1 (Surfside Records 2002)
Timeless Volume 2 (Surfside Records 2003)
Merry Christmas (Surfside Records 2007)
Beach Music Anthology (Surfside Records 2009)
Soul Tapestry (Surfside Records 2010)
Generally Speaking (Invictus Records 1972)
General Johnson (Arista Records 1976)
Hypnotic Music (Invictus Records 1972)
Aries (Invictus Records 1972)
General Johnson's obituary from the NYT:
General Johnson, Singer and Writer of Hit R&B Songs, Dies at 69
Oct. 15, 2010
General Johnson, who provided the distinctive lead vocal for the Chairmen of the Board’s 1970 Top 10 hit, “Give Me Just a Little More Time,” and went on to become a successful rhythm-and-blues songwriter, died Wednesday in suburban Atlanta. He was 69 and lived in East Point, Ga.
His death was announced on the group’s official Web site, chairmenoftheboard.com. The cause was complications of lung cancer, his family said.
Mr. Johnson, whose first name really was General, was best known as a singer but won a Grammy in 1971 for his composition “Patches,” a Top 10 hit for Clarence Carter. He also wrote hits for the Honey Cone (“Want Ads,” “Stick-Up”) and Freda Payne (“Bring the Boys Home”).
He first reached the pop charts in 1961 as the lead singer of the Showmen, whose song “It Will Stand,” which he wrote, was a defiant ode to the power of rock ’n’ roll:
Some folks don’t understand it That’s why they don’t demand it They’re out tryin’ to ruin Forgive them for they know not what they’re doin’.
He moved to Detroit in 1969 to become a member of the Chairmen of the Board, a group being formed by the songwriters and producers Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, who had recently left Motown to form their own label, Invictus. The group’s first single, “Give Me Just a Little More Time,” reached No. 3 on the Billboard singles chart, largely on the strength of Mr. Johnson’s plaintive, boisterous vocal. But after a few more hits, the group broke up.
Mr. Johnson had limited success as a solo artist, and the Chairmen of the Board eventually reunited and found an enthusiastic audience in the South, especially in beachfront communities in North Carolina, where the upbeat brand of rhythm and blues for which the group is known is commonly referred to as beach music.
General Norman Johnson was born in Norfolk, Va., on May 23, 1941, and began singing in church as a young boy. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Julia; two sons, Norman and Antonio; a daughter, Sonya Johnson Payne; his sister, Barbara Lathers; and five grandchildren.