The Soundtrack For The Baby Boomer Generation

Step back to a time when singers were as bright as the stars in the heavens
and the music they sang was really swingin'. Stacks of wax to fit every occasion!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fortune Smiles On Mary Magdelene

Artist: Jeanie Johnson
Song: Next Thing To Paradise (b-side) (a-side is My Jimmie)
Label: RCA Victor 47-7163
Number: J2WW-0335
Songwriters: James Joiner-Kelso Herston
Time: 2:14
Released: 1958

Today's artist was born in Canada as Mary Elizabeth Lee, but was known professionally by several other names. First billed as Jeanie Johnson, she caught the attention of country star Chet Atkins who helped her score a contract with RCA Victor and produced her first three singles. The single which featured the song Next Thing To Paradise was the very first record they worked on together. Neither of the three singles they cut did anything chartwise, so she changed her name in 1965 to Jeanie Fortune and cut a few other singles for RCA, in a more current pop style. Among them were Once More With Feeling, Keep Me and Angry Eyes. The latter is quite catchy and was promoted as "Northern Soul."
During this phase of her career, when she was doing a lot of session work as a back-up singer at Chips Moman's American Studios and using the name of Jeanie Greene, she worked with stars such as Elvis Presley. The resulting publicity got her to take another stab at her solo career. She was signed to the Atco label and recorded one single in 1968, Sure As Sin, which didn't take off, either. Two years later, when signed to the Cotillion label, she recorded a one-shot record with fellow singers Mary Holliday, Ginger Holliday and Donna Thatcher, who went on to join The Grateful Dead where she was known as Donna Godchaux. They were billed as Southern Comfort and the song was called Milk And Honey, b/w Don't Take Your Sweet Love Away, released in 1970. It, too, saw no chart action.
With such a strong voice, her talent couldn't go unnoticed and she was signed to Elektra Records in 1971 where she recorded her one and only album, Mary Called Jeanie Greene, a mixture of Southern soul, Gospel and rock. Describing her during this period, Ron Miller provided an interesting description of Greene: "She was white, but she sang black; she heard voices and truly believed she was the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene." Despite critical approval, her album did not sell well and she has not recorded since. She did continue to work as a back-up vocalist and in fact, sang at George Harrison's Concert For The Bangla Desh. She continued to work as a singer into the 1980's. As to whether or not she's still working or even alive, I haven't been able to find any further information about her.
Today's song, Next Thing To Paradise has that slightly recognizable Countrypolitan sound that was popularised by Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves, who was also produced by Chet Atkins. But, it is a good song and she sings it well. She has a deeper, bassier-sounding voice and even on this, her first record, uses it with much conviction and strength. I feel that, like a previous artist here on Music For Every Mood, Janice Harper, Jeanie Johnson had the skills to be a very popular artist. She played piano and wrote songs and had a very pleasing voice, which she used to sing many different styles of music. If only the breaks had gone her way, she might have been more well known. Despite that, we still have her modest output of musical treasures so please listen to another artist who almost made it big, Jeanie Johnson as she sings Next Thing To Paradise. I think you'll find it quite charming!


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this song and all the info to go with it. I LOVED Jeanie's solo album, now available and sounding beautifully crisp on CD. That rekindled my interest and set me chasing anything she recorded that might sound similar. Jeanie stopped recording for the public quite a while ago but a New Year's Eve home recording can be found on YouTube, together with a recent photo and another well informed career summary and update. The link is:



Anonymous said...

... and now a great three part interview reflecting on her career: