Johnny London – Drivin’ Slow

9th February 2022 · 1950s, 1952, Jazz, Music

Johnny London made history at the age of 16 when his only recording became the first single to be released on the great Sun Studio label in Memphis.

I’m no jazz aficionado but the sensuous, slinky sax sound on this, the first single to be released by Sam Phillips’s Sun Studio, slips straight under my skin.

It’s the only recording ever made by Johnny London, a 16-year-old alto sax player who walked into the newly opened studio, previously known as the Memphis Recording Service, at the beginning of March 1952.

A local rhythm and blues and jazz musician, he wanted to make a demo of two self-penned sax numbers, Drivin’ Slow and Flat Tire, and was snapped up by Sam Phillips for his new label – though the single was never released at the time.
London is accompanied here by Charles Keel on tenor sax, Julius Drake on drums and pianist Joe Hill Louis who had recorded Boogie In The Park, the first – and last single – on Sam’s previous Phillips label.

Showcasing the innovative production skills that would make a name for Elvis and countless other a couple of years later, Phillips created a smokey after-hours impression of London’s sax being heard down a long hallway on a humid night – perhaps floating in from a neighbouring apartment – by rigging something like a telephone booth over London’s head while he played.

The recording was one of a batch of three made by Phillips that were scheduled for release in April 1952 – but this was the only one to be pressed for commercial sale.

It would be decades later before it was finally heard, by which time Johnny London had disappeared from view.