By RITA CHARLESTON
For 21st Century Media
They’re known as the Ambassadors for Romance, and after almost 60 years of producing music like “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “Loved Walked In,” “But Not For Me” and so many others, who could deny that title held by The Flamingos is well deserved.
The group, hailed by Billboard as one of the finest and most influential vocal groups in pop history, will be bringing their music to the Sellersville Theatre 1894 on April 10.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Terry Johnson is lead singer, writer and arranger of some of The Flamingos’ most successful and enduring music. Baltimore native Johnson was singing and recording with a local group when he was just 16, but once he saw The Flamingos perform, he was hooked.
“When I first saw them in concert I didn’t know who they were,” Johnson recalls. “But once they came out on stage with their flashy good looks and harmonies, I could picture myself up there on stage playing my guitar and singing with them.”
A little later, he met up with the group when they were looking for a new band member. They asked Johnson if he knew anybody who would sing first tenor and played an instrument. He said it was as if fate had stepped in because he could do it all.
“So they asked me to audition, and because I could also read music, they fell in love with me. That was in 1956 and I began playing with them right away,” he said.
An accomplished songwriter, the first song Johnson wrote for the group, “Lovers Never Say Goodbye,” crossed them over to the pop charts, and his arrangement of “I Only Have Eyes For You” soon became their national anthem.
Scores of hits followed, and the group became known almost as much for their stage show, attire and choreography as for their harmonies. In fact, groups such as The Temptations would later credit The Flamingos as major influences.
But all good things must come to an end and the original group began to come apart. Johnson split to form his own group called Terry Johnson and The Modern Flamingos.
While still working with his group, Johnson went to Motown Records as an artist and producing partner with Smokey Robinson, recording several records on the Gordy label. Johnson wrote, arranged and produced songs for Robinson and The Miracles, The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Spinners and many other Motown artists.
“Back then, Berry Gordy gave me some sound advise,” Johnson recalls. “He said to stay tuned to the top ten hits of the day, pay close attention to each and everyone, then put yourself into the sounds and recreate them. That’s how Motown got lots of hits and , following his advise, we did as well.”
And then there was the advise Johnson once received from comedian Red Buttons, which was to never be complacent. “He said you can’t keep doing the same thing or audiences will get tired of you so you have to keep coming up with new ideas. I respected the man and knew he was right.”
Today, Johnson is the owner of “The Flamingos” federal trademark and leads the current incarnation of the group. In 2013, The Flamingos released the Diamond Anniversary Tour CD and continue to perform to large and appreciative audiences worldwide.
“I feel blessed that people still want to hear our music. My biggest joy is still being able to do what I love to do and making people happy,” he said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Flamingos
WHERE: Sellersville Theatre 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave in Sellersville.
WHEN: The ensemble performs at 8 p.m. on April 10.
INFO.: Call (215) 257-5808 or check www.st94.com.