During the course of his long career musical
conductor/arranger/singer Johnny Mann won two Grammys, recorded more
than 30 albums, and worked with just about every big name in
Hollywood. He died June 18 at age 85.
But my association with Johnny was due more to his side career,
penning and producing jingles for top 40 guru Bill Drake in the
1960s and 70s. While most AM rockers had been using 30-second
singing IDs that extolled in great detail the merits of the town,
the music, the news and weather, Drake had Johnny Mann cut the new
lyrics down to the basics: "93 KHJ" or "The Big 8 CKLW," for
While these jingles may not have won awards for great lyrics, they
were short, punchy and memorably identified the station. Other ID
jingle producers of the day including Dallas stalwarts PAMS, CRC,
and Gwinsound, were caught flat-footed, and suddenly had to produce
shorter jingles for a market that now demanded them.
A Johnny Mann Original
first contacted Johnny so that I could interview him for a paperback
I was writing called "The
Jingle Book," which is (shameless plug) available through
Amazon. Johnny was warm, forthcoming and had a lot of funny stories
In the mid-1960s, radio formats were getting tighter, meaning less
DJ chatter, fewer public service announcements, and a shorter music
playlist. Johnny Mann became a big part of this trend so I had to
get the story behind his success.
"When the general manager of KHJ(AM), Los Angeles contacted me to
produce some ID jingles for him, the musicianís union was on
strike," Mann told me. "So I suggested acapella jingles, which meant
no instruments, just voices. The manager was worried that voice-only
jingles would sound thin on the air, but I told him, no, I thought
they would stand out!"
And stand out they did, eventually being customized by Johnny and
his Los Angeles-based vocal group in a similar fashion for stations
in New York City, Detroit, San Francisco and dozens of other
markets. But I knew Johnny outside of the music realm as well, and
he was a good friend. He and his wife Betty included me on their
Christmas card list, and we enjoyed a very pleasant relationship.
Johnny was kind, enthusiastic and had a great memory of just about
every note he ever wrote or sang.
For a period in the early 2000s he granted me the right to sell
copies of his radio jingles on CD to collectors all over the world,
and yes, there is such a thing as a jingle collector. These guys are
twice as geeky as record collectors, and Iím proud to be one of them
myself. So Johnny shipped me his tapes, and I proceeded to clean
them up sonically and master them to CD. They were big sellers and I
ended up writing Mr. Mann quite a few royalty checks.
Iíll leave you with one Johnny Mann story. When he first arrived in
Hollywood in the 1950s, Mann, already a capable arranger and
vocalist, wanted to build a reputation as a studio singer, one of
those guys who backs up big-time recording artists. He got a call
from his manager directing Johnny to show up to a session for an
unnamed artist at a particular studio at a certain time. Johnny
walked through the door and found that for his first backup singing
gig the client was Frank Sinatra. Talk about starting at the top.