Rhythm flowed in Terry John­son’s life

‘It won’t be the same’ with­out gifted drum­mer

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MUSIC -

One of the key play­ers in the early his­tory of Stax Records died this past week. Terry John­son, drum­mer for the Mar-keys, the first Stax hit mak­ers (“Last Night”) passed away March 19. John­son was 72.

“Terry got the beat on Beale from sit­ting on the curb lis­ten­ing to the great bands of the ’50s,” says Stax Records his­to­rian Robert Gor­don. “He car­ried it not only to the white kids in East Mem­phis and Millington, but to all kids ev­ery­where when the Mar-keys hit the road. Terry had a great sense of hu­mor — loved to tell jokes — and you could hear that hu­mor in his play­ing. That was a rhythm he kept all his life.”

Born in April 1943 to Nina and Jimmy John­son, young Terry was be­sot­ted by mu­sic from an early age, and he found nir­vana in the thriv­ing club scene in and around Mem­phis.

As John­son would re­mem­ber for Gor­don’s Stax his­tory “Re­spect Your­self”: “The mu­sic was ev­ery­where. We would sneak over to Plan­ta­tion Inn in West Mem­phis … and they would let us in Curry’s Trop­i­cana in North Mem­phis, or we’d spend all night down on Beale by the old Club Handy and lis­ten to Eve­lyn Young play sax­o­phone,” said John­son. “That was how it got started.”

John­son was a fresh­man at Messick High when he was re­cruited by a group of fel­low stu­dents into the Mar-keys in 1958. As the group’s gui­tarist Steve Crop­per would re­call, John­son was a pre­co­cious ta­lent be­hind the drum kit who helped so­lid­ify the band’s lineup. “Boy, we were ask­ing ev­ery­body in school,” noted Crop­per. “We found (Terry), who played drums in his fa­ther’s coun­try band. So he had a lit­tle bit of ex­pe­ri­ence, even though he was only in ninth grade.”

John­son played and toured with the group for sev­eral years into the

1960s. “We were a pretty well-es­tab­lished band out of high school, but we had to wait a year for Terry to grad­u­ate so we could go out on the road,” says fel­low Mar-keys mem­ber­don­nix.“ter­ry­was­worth the wait, though. He was an amaz­ing drum­mer. He took a lot from (Booker T. & the MGS drum­mer) Al Jack­son. Terry’s shuf­fle was the best white man shuf­fle I ever heard.”

As much as he loved mu­sic, John­son found his true call­ing in the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion. Af­ter the MarKeys, John­son went back to school. He would earn a PH.D. in psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Mem­phis. He later be­came the clin­i­cal di­rec­tor at North East Men­tal Health Cen­ter and Ge­n­e­sis of Jack­son. He was also a di­rec­tor of Chil­dren and Youth Ser­vices at Frayser Fam­ily Coun­sel­ing Cen­ter. John­son’s work in youth men­tal health pro­gram­ming was deeply in­flu­en­tial. He helped cre­ate and im­ple­ment the Ther­a­peu­tic Fos­ter Care Pro­gram, Ther­a­peu­tic Nurs­ery Pro­gram and Youth Day Treat­ment Pro­gram — all of which be­came model pro­grams in Ten­nessee and nu­mer­ous other states.

“He had quite a ca­reer as psy­chol­o­gist. He was a well-ac­com­plished per­son, which was a shock to all of us,” Nix said with a chuckle. “’Cause he was like us; he just liked to have fun and play. But Terry re­ally got high up in the (med­i­cal world). He was a unique per­son.”

John­son and his wife, Joann, were also part own­ers of Mid­town deli/restau­rant Fino’s From The Hill, which was dec­o­rated with photos and mem­o­ries of John­son’s time in the Mar-keys.

“The Mar-keys used to get to­gether, the ones that were left, at Fino’s and we al­ways had a good time,” says Nix. “Terry was a good friend and a good mu­si­cian. It won’t be the same with­out him.”


ABOVE: The Royal Spades: Don Nix, Steve Crop­per, Charles ‘Packy’ Ax­ton, Don­ald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Terry John­son, Ron­nie Stoots, and Wayne Jack­son. LEFT AND BE­LOW: Images of 1960s Stax band, the Mar-keys, with Terry John­son — who died last week — on drums.



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