Upon entering Gigi Sanders, Peace By Piece Soul Station on Washington Street in Knoxville, I was immediately greeted by a smiling, and a seemingly, eternally youthful, (he will turn 80 years old this year), John Myers. He is a modest man with an amazing spirit. There was an immediate connection between the two of us. We were here to talk about John's music and musical experiences.
During his career John Myers has performed with some of Rhythm and Blue's most famous artists and in some of America's most renowned venues. He's performed with a "Who's Who" of R&B music, sharing the same bill with Jackie Wilson, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Cool and the Gang, Joe Tex, Ike and Tina Turner, Diana Washington and the late, great B.B. King.
The list of venues in which John has performed is equally as impressive. He's appeared at the legendary Apollo Theater and the Psychedelic Shack in New York, and the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, plus countless shows throughout the country.
The Early Years:
John Myer's story begins in Kingsport, Tennessee, where was born on October 20, 1935. He was one of seven children, four boys and three girls, born to parents Eddie and Willie Myers. John inherited his love of music from his father, a piano player who traveled overseas entertaining soldiers during World War II. John recalls, "He was sometimes playing during the air-raids and would have to run for cover because of the bombs dropping."
John's father passed away at an early age and the family then moved to Knoxville. Things were tough for his mother having to raise seven children on her own. John recalls that love got them through. Even now, John looks back and appreciates that unconditional love of family that sustained them through many difficult times. He says there was always singing around the house. When an opportunity presented itself to enter an assembly show at Green Elementary school, John and two of his brothers knew they had to be a part of it. The three brothers performed a song the Clovers had a hit with in the summer of 1951, "Don't You Know I Love You." John recalls, "We got a standing ovation and that's all it took." While in high school John remembers, "We started practicing from morning 'til night, sometimes playing hooky to go practice."
John and his brothers didn't perform just Do Wop music but included songs that their dad had played. Classics like "Stardust", some "Fats" Waller tunes, "Over the Rainbow", and even the "Tennessee Waltz." Their repertoire included gospel, country, polkas and jazz music. They began to call themselves the Echoes. John says, "We didn't read music but we had a good ear." The Echoes included five members; John, his twin brother James, younger brother Herbert, John Anderson and Charles Holloway. Fred Logan heard them, liked what he heard, and became their manager. The Echoes played at various clubs in downtown Knoxville. John recalls how different the Vine Street area was then. "There were barber shops, beauty shops, cigar stores, pool halls, drugstores, restaurants, and grocery stores." He also remembers fondly the storied Gem Theater on Vine. Manager Fred Logan would bring entertainers to town to play the Gem and put them up at his large home on Dandridge Avenue.
It was during this period that Atlantic Records recorded the group. However, because of some harmonic problems, the deal didn't happen. John Anderson decided to leave the group and was replaced by John Chrismon. At this point they traveled to Nashville and recorded two songs, "Come With Me My Love" and "I Do Believe." Another change in personnel came about when John Chrismon was replaced by Benny Washington and Clifford Curry. The group now changed their name to The Five Pennies. They received another call from Atlantic Records, who had continued following the group. They prepared to travel to New York to Atlantic Records, however in the meantime, manager Fred Logan had made a contact for them at Savoy Records in Newark, New Jersey. Fred not only had a deal for them but a place to stay as well. Fred's sister, Corrine and his brother Buster lived in Newark and let the group stay with them. While at Savoy records the group performed background vocals for a number of artists including Little Willie John, Tommy Tucker, Big Maybelle and Esther Phillips just to name a few.
Griffin and Sullivan...
It was also during this time that the Five Pennies recorded some on their own. One member who had joined the group, Clifford Curry, had written a song titled, "Mr. Moon."
The song got airplay and was the one that got the group an audition with the Ed Sullivan Show. Everything was set for their appearance on the show but the producers wanted the group to sing "Mr. Moon." Unfortunately, Clifford Curry had just left to finish school. No one in the group could do the lead like Clifford so the Sullivan Show didn't happen.
However, another national show did come calling, the "Merv Griffin Show." John recalls, "This was our big debut, the record had been playing a lot. Also Flip Wilson, who was just beginning to be known, we were on the show together. And that was great. We were just havin' a great time back then, you know a Knoxville country boy." (laughs)
Changes in The Pennies..
At this point the group was dealt a blow when John's twin brother James, Charles Holloway and Benny Washington were all drafted into the army. Some personnel changes, plus brother Herbert's marriage and retirement from the road caused it to look somewhat discouraging for the group. Due to the loss of members the Five Pennies became the Four Pennies with John Myers, Carl Cutler, Lindsey Griffin and Floyd Lawson.
John recalls fondly the many shows that the Pennies did which not only included music but other stage performance as well. The group incorporated singing, comedy, a robot character, and chair jumping. At one point in the Pennies show, the band would play while each member of the group would jump over chairs placed long ways and end in a split. Floyd Lawson got up to 11 chairs. John laughs as he says this may account for some of his leg problems today.
The birth of the Hearts of Stone..
The appearance on the "Merv Griffin Show" caught the attention of a promoter from Canada named Stefanie DeParis. It was at this time that Stephanie connected them to Motown Records. A great producer named Hank Crosby worked with the group and produced them too. Because of the doo-wop music that the group was performing, they were not quite soulful enough for the Motown sound. So in 1970 they changed their name to the "Hearts of Stone." Now they were ready for Motown in Detroit and the famous recording studio, known as Hitsville USA. As John described, "They wanted us lock, stock and barrel to record for them." The Motown deal didn't happen because of agent representation contractual agreements. Motown stopped promoting the group but they stayed very busy performing.
John was now in his mid thirties and had been performing for years. He decided to slow down and move to Tampa, Florida. There he formed a trio with John's brother Herbert and Lindsey Griffin. They continued to work clubs in Florida but John was also worn out from years on the road as a performer and trying to manage the group. He was also still smoking and began developing serious breathing problems. So, in the early 80's he decided to move back to Knoxville.
Who said you can't go home again..
Upon arriving back in Knoxville John decided to give his heart to the Lord. At church he met a beautiful girl named Pamela, the niece of Carl Martin, a member of the legendary group called Martin, Bogan and Armstrong (also known as the Tennessee Chocolate Drops.) John and Pamela have been married now for 30 years and both have twin brothers. They write music and poetry together. I had the pleasure of spending time with both John and Pamela. They are committed to helping people and are very active in their church.
These days John continues to perform with his band. He is also on a mission to help young performers realize how important it is to develop good business practices. He doesn't want young people today to face some of the problems he faced in his younger days. John says, "I want to leave a legacy for those to stay in the right direction because it's too easy to go wrong. I've seen guys that started off down the road, they started out straight, people like David Ruffin. (Temptations: 1964-1968.) He had a hard life when he was coming up but when he got out there with fame he just couldn't handle it. When many had the opportunity to start making the money they just didn't know how to handle it. We came from a small town called Knoxville, Tennessee, but yet still we had good teachers and we had good parents that taught us, and thank God, he protected us."
John has spoken and performed several times at the University of Tennessee. He hopes to continue to mentor young performers. He says, "I try now to do everything I do in love. Not to take away or try to steal what they've got or to try to take advantage of people because they don't know. But you've got people like that and they would do that. Young people need good role models."
The internet has become a source of keeping up with his music. He discovered that EMI issued a CD called Motown Connoisseurs, Volume 2. It is a compilation of some of Motown's most popular artist including the Four Tops, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and if you look closely a song titled, "If I Could Give You the World", by the Hearts of Stone. John also showed me a publication, Motown: The Golden Years. You'll find John Myers name in print, along with the group, the Hearts Of Stone.
John has also started his own publishing company and has a Fan Page on Facebook. With help from his great-grandson, he is currently working on a web site which will feature highlights from his career and his music. You can find his music now on YouTube and ReverbNation.
John's latest CD is titled, I Ain't Goin Nowhere." The first 6 songs on the project were written by John's wife Pamela.
You should catch the John Myers Band performing "LIVE" at the Meadowlark Music Festival at IJams Nature Center in Knoxville on June 27. Check the website
John is also scheduled to appear at the KMA (Knoxville Museum of Art), Alive After Five series on July 10. For information: http://www.knoxart.org/events/aliveafter5.html
This is the end of this story but thankfully not of John Myers story. He continues to write songs with his lovely wife Pamela. Both have a passion to serve others who are hurting. John continues to perform his music and to champion the cause of mentoring young performers to be educated about the music business, because it is, after all, a business. He also warns aspiring singers, don't let the road get the best of you as it has many other performers. Keep on the narrow road. It will always lead in the right direction.
I'm glad my road led me to John and Pamela Myers.