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The Memorial Album For Johnny Ace

Johnny Ace

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Album Review

In the weeks and months following Johnny Ace's [aka John Marshall Alexander Jr.] tragic passing on Christmas Eve 1954, demand for his songs was at an all-time high. The resulting Memorial Album (1955) gathered a baker's dozen of Ace's most memorable selections, documented between the spring of 1952 and the summer of 1954. There are no unissued numbers on the disc, as each of the tracks had previously surfaced on a variety of 78s. However concurrent audiences no doubt saw this as an opportunity to obtain any of the platters they may have previously missed. Moreover, the exclusion of the prominent Top Ten R&B singles "Cross My Heart" and "Saving My Love for You" suggests Memorial Album was not conceived as a sort of comprehensive anthology. Ace (piano) originally formed his Beal Streeters along with fellow ex-B.B. King sidemen Earl Forest (drums) and Adolph "Billy" Duncan (sax). Their inaugural outing was held in the studios of Memphis radio station WDIA and producing, among other things "My Song," a deviation of Ruth Brown's "So Long." It shot to number one and was backed with the rabble rousin' R&B thumper "Follow the Rule." Listening to Ace's emphatic keyboards makes it clear that in addition to being a consummate composer and vocalist, he was likewise one helluva boogie-style pianist. Three of the four cuts from their next date are also included, specifically worthy of note are the loose and limber instrumentals "Aces Wild" and "Burley Cutie," while the languid ballad "Angel" is akin to Ace and company's standard fare. Beginning in January '53, Ace began working with the Johnny Otis Band. The results speak for themselves, especially "The Clock"'s foreboding temperament and Ace's decidedly impetuous side, displayed as he is flanked by Big Mama Thornton (vocals) for "Yes Baby." "Please Forgive Me" and Ace's biggest crossover entry "Pledging My Love" followed in rather quick succession and not surprisingly both became huge R&B hits as well. Johnny Board (sax), the leader of Ace's touring ensemble, became the musical director for his final batch of tunes. The urban jazz vibe of "Never Let Me Go" and the mid-tempo blues "No Money" are taken from those sessions. Although Memorial Album is out of print, interested parties are encouraged to treat themselves to the Complete Duke Recordings (2005) from the internet audio boutique Hip-O Select — online at — as it houses all 20 of Johnny Ace's seminal contributions to pop music.


Born: 09 June 1929 in Memphis, TN

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '40s, '50s

The senseless death of young pianist Johnny Ace while indulging in a round of Russian roulette backstage at Houston's City Auditorium on Christmas Day of 1954 tends to overshadow his relatively brief but illustrious recording career on Duke Records. That's a pity, for Ace's gentle, plaintive vocal balladry deserves...
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The Memorial Album For Johnny Ace, Johnny Ace
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