SAN DIEGO–One of San Diego’s local musicians, Joe Johnson, tenor sax player and singer, passed away peacefully surrounded by loved ones July 13 at the Lakeview Hospice House.
Johnson was inducted into the San Diego African American Musicians’ Heritage Foundation in 2006.
He was passionate about entertaining. Self-taught, he purchased his first horn in 1954 and practiced playing and singing daily. He used to tell a story about his first singing experience when he got into a bit of a pickle with some buddies down in Tijuana, and ended up singing for tips in a bar to help them get back home. Turned out the audience really liked him, so he started singing along with his sax playing.
Johnson’s first gigs were with Teddy Pico, Billy Daniels, and Matt Thornton. Later, he worked with James Cole, Charles Tapps, Hytha and Nat Fuget who all had birthdays in the first part of November; thus,their group name became “The Scorpios.” Over the years, many compared his sax playing to the great Stanley Turrentine and his singing to Billy Eckstine. Some of the great ballads that he used to sing were: “I Apologize”, “The Very Thought of You”, “Misty”, “As Time Goes By”, “Georgia On My Mind”, and many others.
He played four nights a week in the “Fro Brigham Preservation Band” and at several places with many musicians and singers around San Diego for over 40 years, including: Elks Club, V.F.W., Navy bases, old Douglas Hotel, Pal Joey’s, Lorenzo’s (El Cajon), and Patrick’s. Some of the musicians were: Ervin Big Boy Groves, Les Gombs, James Wilkins, Fro Brigham, Jessie Wilkins, Eugene Watson, Barbara Jameson, Hugh Parker, Larry Boles, Henry Klingle Smith, Houston Nailor, Stanley Jefferson, Mark Daniels, Sy Rainey, Hollis Hassell, “Rabbit” Vaughn, Carl Evans, Sr., Bud Conway, Lee Darta, Frank Santi. KUSI-TV Broadcast Meteorologist Dave Scott used to sit in and play his trombone at Pal Joey’s.
A Military Memorial Service will be held July 30 at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego. There will be a gathering immediately following at Nobel Athletic Area and Park for the public.