Local News

A recognition and reunion

SEBRING - Sebring resident Jimmy Johnson was honored to be inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame on April 25, 2012, but he said the most rewarding result of that recognition was finding the son he never knew existed. “Our music was rock with a country twist,” said Johnson of the Blue Echoes, who became famous for songs like “Debbie,” “Witchcraft,” and “Misery.” Johnson works under the professional name Jimmy Black and has had a successful musical career since 1958 when he joined the group that identifies itself as the first rock ‘n roll band from Lansing, Mich. “I got obsessed with music when I was very young. It’s a non-verbal communication that touches people on a deep emotional level,” said Johnson, holding his favorite guitar from his collection of 30, an emerald green, Paul Reed Smith electric six-string once used by Carlos Santana.
Johnson joined the Blue Echoes as a replacement for one of the group’s original four members. He toured with them as a guitar player and vocalist for four years. When the Rockabilly Hall of Fame honored the band as a pioneer of this American music genre, they posted a 1961 photo of the Blue Echoes on their website. That picture changed Johnson’s life. “If it was not for the Rockabilly award, we would not have connected,” said Michael Miller, Johnson’s newfound son. For years, the computer analyst and his wife had searched websites and even called a television show trying to locate Johnson, unaware that his stage name was Jimmy Black. But it was a call from his mother after she saw the photo that led to them finally meeting. “I was really nervous. I didn’t know what to expect,” said Miller, but the two bonded immediately. “It’s like we’re twins; we have so much in common. It really says something about genetics.” A month after their initial phone conversation, Johnson traveled to Washington D.C. to get to know Miller, his wife and their two children. The Millers then ventured to Florida to meet the rest of Johnson’s family: his son, James Johnson III; his daughter, Juliana Curtis; and five grand-daughters. “Sometimes another chapter in your life pops up that is unexpected,” said Miller, who is thrilled with the family connection that has such a natural feeling. “He is my clone…a younger version of me,” said the proud father, grateful for the opportunity he now has to be a part of Michael’s life. Dressed in a Bob Dylan T-shirt and khakis, this self-described philosopher-musician reminisced about playing USO shows at airbases all over the world with “The Las Vegas Review,” touring with country singer Mary Frances “Skeeter Davis” Penicks, and founding the band “Good, Bad and the Ugly.” One concert that remains vivid in his memories was an outdoor ‘50s and ‘60s party played in Flushing, Mich. to a crowd of more than 25,000. “People just kept coming and coming and coming. It was a night where the chemistry just came together…it was almost magical. By the end of the night we were drenched and exhausted, but what a night. People were cheering, stood and applauded for 15 minutes,” recalled Johnson. “That was a great memory!” Weary of all his years on the road, Johnson bought a small trailer park in Wauchula 25 years ago. A few years later he sold that property and relocated to Sebring. Earlier this year Johnson was a judge for both the Rotary Club of Avon Park’s “Highlands County’s Got Talent” show and the “Heartland Idol” competition. “He’s a really nice man. He really enjoyed himself this year, and we’d like to have him come back again,” said Heartland Idol board member Debra Latimer. This fun-loving rocker still performs at American Legion Post 25 in Lake Placid and the Paradise Grill in Highlands Ridge and at various venues in Lansing when he visits friends and family in Michigan. “I was fortunate to have a very successful career. I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to do what I love,” said Johnson.