Johnny London Biography
The very first Sun record to hit the streets in early 1952 was a poor predictor of what lay ahead. For years, Sun fans puzzled over the name Johnny London on record lists. Was he a blues singer? A hillbilly? Rockabilly? Years later, it turned out the correct answer was ‘none of the above’. London was a local R&B and jazz musician who had walked into 706 Union to make some demos and so impressed Phillips that he decided to record him for Sun.
Sun 175 was a curious record by any reckoning. London’s alto sax was supported by minimal riffing from tenor sax player Charles Keel. Keel’s lines, especially on “Drivin’ Slow,” might ordinarily have been supplied by a guitar player. But no one ever accused Sun Records or Sam Phillips, for that matter, of being ordinary. London’s bluesy improvisation is recorded in a sea of echo that creates the illusion that his performance is coming from the next apartment. London always cited Charlie Parker as his major influence, but on the evidence here he’s more within honking distance of Earl Bostic or Lynn Hope.
It was a brave step, releasing such an after-hours instrumental as Sun’s first disc, but London insists that the record reached #1 on some local charts (including WHBQ). Even more tellingly, a copy of London’s 78 hung on the entrance wall to the studio at 706 Union for years. If nothing else, Sam Phillips was proud of it.