On this day in music history: July 9, 1982 – “Keepin’ Love New”, the debut album by Howard Johnson is released. Produced by Kashif, Morrie Brown and Paul Laurence Jones, it is recorded at Celestial Sounds Studios and Mediasound Studios in New York City from Early – Mid 1982. Born and raised in Miami, FL, Howard Johnson begins his music career performing in various bands, during the early to mid 70’s. In 1977, Johnson meets fellow musician Sandy Torano, while singing in a local bar. Having previously worked with major R&B acts like Phyllis Hyman and The Commodores. Torano asks Johnson to join his band Niteflyte as a vocalist. Johnson accepts the offer. They are signed to Ariola America Records in late 1978, and record their self titled debut album. Niteflyte quickly hit pay dirt in the Spring of 1979 with the infectious and breezy “If You Want It” (#21 R&B, #37 Pop). Unfortunately, it is the only sizable hit the band have. When they only land two more minor R&B hits, and a second album fails, Niteflyte breaks up. However, Howard Johnson is not out of the mix for long, when he is offered a solo contract with A&M Records. The talented singer is paired with songwriter and producers Kashif, Paul Laurence Jones and Morrie Brown to work on his first albums. The producers behind Evelyn “Champagne” King’s (then known as Evelyn King) major comeback smash “I’m In Love”, the trio proceed to work their magic on Johnson as well. Taking the singer to their home base of New York City, they hit the studio to work on his debut solo album. Kashif comes up with the funky mid tempo groove “So Fine” (#6 R&B, #1 Club Play), for Howard. The song features scintillating multi-tracked harmony vocals, and a Moog keyboard bass line that won’t quit. “So Fine” also features a who’s who of great New York background singers including a then unknown Freddie Jackson, Fonzi Thornton, B.J. Nelson, Michelle Cobbs, Philip Ballou and Regi King. The single quickly catches fire during the Summer of 1982, ascending the R&B and dance charts simultaneously. That is followed up by the title track “Keepin’ Love New” (#47 R&B) in the Fall. When Kashif and the others become involved with other musical projects, Howard Johnson works with other producers including David Frank and Mic Murphy of The System, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on his second and third A&M albums. Only landing two more top 30 R&B hits, Johnson forms the duo Johnson & Branson with singer Regis Branson. They release their self titled album on A&M in 1989, yielding only minor hits with “Let’s Get To Know Each Other Better”, “Jockin’ Me” and “So Much Emotion”. The album flops and they are dropped by A&M Records. Johnson will remain active in the music business, working with singer Donna Allen (“Serious”, “Joy And Pain”), recording the duet “Perfect Timing”. In 2002, Johnson & Branson reunite briefly, recording a second album titled “Packed & Waitin’”, which is only released in Japan. The album features a new updated version of “So Fine”. And after a nearly twenty five year hiatus, Howard Johnson releases his self titled fourth album in 2010. Out of print in any form for more than thirty years, Johnson’s major label debut album is remastered and reissued by PTG Records in 2005. “Keepin’ Love New” peaks at number ten on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number one hundred twenty two on the Top 200.
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