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The Fantastic Johnny C was born Johnny Corley on April 28, 1943, in Greenwood, SC. He joined the armed services at an early age, leaving Brewer High in Greenwood before graduating to enlist. When his military duty ended, he moved to Norristown, PA, a small city 18 miles from Philadelphia, and found work as a heavy-equipment operator while becoming increasingly unable to resist the temptation to sing professionally. R&B producer Jesse James attended the same church as Corley and quickly spotted his talent. James made a career out of transforming gospel singers into secular performers; he discovered Cliff "the Horse" Nobles a short time later at the same church. James became Corley's manager and wrote songs for him — one of them, "Boogaloo Down Broadway," convinced Corley to give pop music a serious try. "Broadway" became a big hit, hitting number five on the R&B charts and number seven on the pop charts. The follow-up, "Got What You Need," didn't surpass or equal "Broadway," but it did chart, while "Hitch It to the Horse" bounced onto the R&B charts, and even crept into the pop Top 40, in 1968. His stage name came about when some acquaintances of both James and Corley stated almost in unison, "That's fantastic — what are you going to call him?" after hearing "Boogaloo Down Broadway." Hearing their response, James first came up with the Fantastic Johnny Corley before shortening it to the Fantastic Johnny C. His first gig was at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, sharing a bill with Sam & Dave, the Vibrations, and Joe Simon. Phil La of Soul released his only album, Boogaloo Down Broadway, a mini-masterpiece of gritty soul containing the deep soul cuts "Warm and Tender Love," "Shout Bamalama," and many dance tunes: "Cool Broadway," "Barefootin'," "The Bounce," and "Land of a Thousand Dances." Corley continued to sing in church while recording secular music. When he scored his first hit, he stated that his goal was to be the "number one soul brother," and, while he failed to achieve that lofty title, he did land among the stars for brief period courtesy of his explosive recordings.