*Singer, songwriter, recording artist and producer Howard Johnson, perhaps best known for his chart-topping mega hit “So Fine,” has a lot on his musical plate these days. Yet, he’s excited about putting a little more food for the ear and soul on this plate, as he prepares to perform at the 2nd Annual Kashif & Friends Black Music Month Celebration at Catalina Jazz Club, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, California. There are two shows (7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.) each night.
In addition to Johnson’s vocal offerings, the musical lineup will feature Kashif and his band, songstress Meli’sa Morgan, vocalist and guitarist Ray Parker, Jr., “The System,” actress/singer Dawnn Lewis, and others.
“It’s a real pleasure and an honor and a great opportunity to be a part of Kashif & Friends for Black Music Month,” said Johnson. “What Kashif was doing decades ago helped make artists like Melba Moore, Evelyn “Champaign” King, Meli’sa Morgan, Whitney Houston, and myself. We all are a big family.”
Before connecting with Kashif in the early 1980s, Johnson was the lead vocalist of the pop group “Niteflyte.” The Arista Records-signed ensemble had several albums and hit songs in the late 1970s, including “If You Want It.” Nevertheless, the end of the disco era was near and hip hop was beginning to set new trends and directions in music. Johnson knew that he had to adapt to stay relevant on the music scene, and meeting Kashif was just what the doctor ordered.
“I was introduced to Kashif by an executive from TK Records in Miami by the name of Howard Smiley, who had a production deal with Kashif,” Johnson recalled. “I was actually living in Miami, where I’m from, but the next thing I knew I was in New York City with Kashif.”
The collaboration between Kashif and Johnson was magical, because in 1982 Kashif produced Johnson’s first album on A&M Records called “Keepin’ Love New” which yielded several hot singles, but none hotter than “So Fine.” The hit R&B/Dance single was No. 1 on the charts for weeks.
Johnson said “So Fine” represented a “new and fresh sound that had not been heard at that point and time.” Interestingly, he didn’t like the song when Kashif first introduced it in a slightly different format.
“I hated ‘So Fine’ the first time I heard it,” Johnson recently told EURweb’s Lee Bailey. “When I first heard the song it was the commercial for Drake’s Cakes, which were pretty famous in New York. I told Kashif that it was stupid and I was not going to sing the song. He told me to chill out because he was still doing this and that to the song. I told him that he could do what he wanted with the song, I’m not singing about stupid cakes. I stormed out.”
Johnson recalled what happened next.
“I came in the next day and heard what Kashif had done with the song, which included adding these incredible bass lines,” said Johnson. “I heard the lyrics, ‘So fine…so fine blows my mind.’ I looked at Kashif and asked, ‘Did you give the song to Evelyn yet?’ He did not so I took ‘So Fine.’ I was so glad that Kashif was patient enough to excuse my arrogance.”
Over the ensuing decades, Johnson would go on to chart other hit singles, including “Let This Dream Be Real,” “Stand Up,” “Let’s Take Time Out,” and many more. While much of Johnson’s vocal success has been in the genres of disco, pop and R&B, he simply does not like to be pigeon-holed.
“I never considered myself an R&B singer,” explained Johnson. “I consider myself a singer. Being a singer encompasses a lot of different areas. As a matter of fact, I have a country record that’s finished, waiting and ready to go. I’m an ‘urban cowboy.’ I also wrote the theme song for the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.”
Johnson reflected on his three-plus decades in the music industry.
“I thank God that I still have my health and musical skills to be able to carry on,” he said. “I’m also thankful to come full circle to work with Kashif again and help celebrate Black Music Month with Kashif & Friends. Hopefully, we can take this show out on the road, so everyone can see and hear the great contributions that Kashif has made to music.”
To purchase tickets for the 2nd Annual Kashif & Friends Black Music Month Celebration, log on to catalinajazzclub.com, or call 323.466.2210.