JIMMY JUSTICE (By Colin Kilgour)
Born 15th December 1939, Bermondsey, South-East London
Real Name: James Anthony Bernard Little
Jimmy Justice had one of the richest sounding voices in the UK during the early 1960s even if it failed to make him one of the richest singers. Jimmy was possibly one of the unluckiest singers of the pre-Beatles era, being among those unfortunates whose careers were terminated by the beat boom
If you hadn't ever seen or heard of Jimmy Justice before, then his early recordings sounded more like those of an established black American than a young white Londoner. This illusion was reinforced by the choice of material used for several of his record releases, which were mostly remakes and covers of songs taken from US groups.
Quite likely he didn't realise his full potential because of a lack of original material and poor decision making, much of which centered around failing to be in the right place at the right time
It can be argued also that he was a convincing home-grown blue-eyed Soul singer, he came along about three years too early. Because he'd taken off in Scandinavia first, he was rarely in the UK to promote or capitalise on his UK hits
Jimmy says no one in the industry saw the coming of the Fab Four and all they wrought... "We were all being told we had to be like Bobby Darin .. had to wear DJs and tuxes; short haircuts [we didn't know he wore a bloody wig]; and sing swing material. We were all being urged to do all that old finger-snapping nonsense, songs with slick lyrics, big band arrangements .. just like my first album! They kept telling us rock and roll was dead ... the record companies just couldn't see it .... and by the time they did realise what was going on, it was too late for me and the other guys like me"
Jimmy spent much of the late 50s loafing around London's premier rock and roll, skiffle & coffee bars. Many of his mates were aspirant rock and rollers and as a result of hanging out with Dave and George Sweetman, Emile Ford's step-brothers, he'd occasionally get up and sing with The Checkmates
Emile encouraged/bullied Jimmy to form his own group and join the coffee bar circuit. In 1960, Emile also suggested entering the same talent competition that he had himself won the year before. Jimmy and the boys came third
This led to a recording test with EMI Records but through the machinations of Ford, this didn't come to fruition. Emile was with Pye and wanted to produce Jimmy. It seems he didn't specifically want Jim to sign for Pye as he was not exactly on best terms with them himself
The other possibility, Joe Meek's Triumph label was in financial trouble and within all the comings and goings, the EMI situation faded away and Pye it was. The first release was late 1960 ("I Understand" .. credited to JJ & The Jury and although that was Jim's regular backing trio, it was Ford's Checkmates on the disc)
Strangely although Pye didn't put much muscle behind promoting the release (it sank without trace), they did see enough promise to offer Justice a 3-year deal
Around this time, Jimmy's career did take an unexpected upturn. He went to stay with his Swedish girlfriend for Christmas (no, wait, that wasn't the upturn). Whilst there he sang in a few of the local clubs which led to radio and TV shows
He then cut 'When Love Has Left You' a soulful beat ballad by his new A & R chief Tony Hatch. This led to his UK TV debut on Thank Your Lucky Stars. The Ben E King vocal-styled track deserved a better response than it received
Jim next had a cut included on a spurious Bye Bye Birdie cover EP (Baby Talk To Me - done by Bobby Rydell in the movie). Jimmy's third release didn't quite reach the charts but did sell well .. a cover of the Jarmels' "A Little Bit Of Soap" which could be viewed as a template for what was to come
This nearly brought UK chart success but it was the flipside (another Jarmels' song) Little Lonely One which picked up massive airplay in Sweden where the Chopin prelude melody had morphed into one of their favourite carols. Justice was now a smash in Scandi, leading to his previous discs being reissued there
He received a telegram from Hatch ordering him back to London where Hatch had chosen the Drifters' "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" as Jim's next cover. Despite being up against the original, as well as another well-made cover from the established British star, Craig Douglas, the Justice version managed to share the honours of a #9 chart entry with the more experienced Craig
Chart positioning rankles to this day with Jimmy, who is convinced that his was the best seller of all the versions .. "I really resent that bloody Guinness Book of Hit Singles ... it only shows my record as reaching 9 but it got to 3, I know it did ... it was on the BBC and in all the newspapers and magazines at the time .. "
An NME Top Thirty illustration certainly shows Jim's MLG at three, in a non-moving top 4 (Weds. 25 April. 1962). Top of the pile are The Shads with Wonderful Land, next Bruce Channel's Hey! Baby with Jimmy at three atop The Big O's Dream Baby
Surely a case of which chart you consult ...
Tell you what though, if it had to be just one version on my Desert Island, I'd most likely take the JJ! A cover it may be but stonking good it is .... maybe it's that harpsichord over the intro :o) :o) :o)
James was back in Sweden as WMLG hit and owing to contractual obligations there, it is quite an irony that he wasn't able to capitalise properly back home, on his long sought success. This proved to be an ongoing problem which would ultimately undermine his UK career
He was still 'stranded' in Scandinavia throughout the spring and summer of 1962, missing out completely on his all-important follow-up single which was nonetheless still a significant hit
Hatch hadn't wanted another cover nor for JJ to go with a Hatch song. Step forward Johnny Worth who was one of the hottest English songwriters at the time (Adam Faith material). Justice is proudest of "Ain't That Funny", not just because it was his biggest UK success but had been written especially for him.
The record credit was 'Les Vandyke' (Worth's pen-name) and Justice was presumably lucky that the song had come to him rather than Eden Kane with whom the songwriter was closely associated at the time
It charted immediately but as stated, it would have done far more justice had Jimmy been around to press it home. A couple of successful tours (with Gene Vincent then Fury/Wilde) helped but by then the horse had bolted
After this neat original, it was back to the US 'group' catalogue with "Spanish Harlem", which turned out to be Jim's final UK chart entry. Having been compared with Ben E King since he'd first started singing, it was perhaps inevitable that sooner or later he'd cover one of his songs, particularly as he'd already done a Drifters' number!
Jimmy's disc hung around the charts for three months - although as before, he missed out on promoting it because he was stranded in Sweden (my, all that free love goin' on there must have been compelling)
In the US, Ain't That Funny was released on Kapp and got a positive review in Billboard - this at a time when few British artists even got their discs issued Stateside. It sold well on the East coast and in various regional markets, following which Kapp released 'WMLG is Smiling' which made a decent stab at arriving in the 100 (better than Emile Ford ever did anyway!)
Dave Kapp himself subsequently flew to London to oversee a session at which Jim cut a revival of Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes for the US market. The track ultimately ended up as the first release on the Leiber/Stoller legendary Blue Cat label in the fall of 1964
Backtracking to the Autumn of '62, Jimmy had registered 3 consecutive UK hits, largely without the benefit of much promotional input. He was beginning to earn a reputation as a charismatic live performer and was widely being acknowledged as a major new talent. He'd enjoyed massive successes in Scandinavia, had registered major hit records throughout Europe and Australia and had then come within a cat's whisker of making it in the US but then a couple of crucial wrong decisions were made, from which his career never really recovered
His next single Parade of Broken Hearts was a real stinker, followed shortly by Jimmy's debut album, rated another creative catastrophe. The Two Sides of JJ was designed to present him as a 'serious' artist, able to handle 'quality' material, just like a 'proper' singer. But it came out at a time when teenagers were just beginning to rail against the system. Kids didn't want their pop music packaged all neat and tidy ... with parental/establishment approval. Instead they wanted something less obviously neutered and rather more exciting
Ironically Justice could have so easily have fitted that bill. By now he was working with a new backing group. The Excheckers were three former members of Emile Ford's Checkmates who'd recently split from their leader
They'd helped toughen up Jimmy's style and to further build his confidence. It was clear that musical changes were afoot. They'd already headlined over The Beatles at The Cavern during 1962 and in the summer of the following year Jimmy and the lads would spend a couple of memorable weeks at the legendary Star Club in Hamburg, headlining over Tony Sheridan and Davy Jones
Early in '63 in a flurry of activity, Pye tried to get Jim's career back on track but it didn't happen. The discs weren't that bad but come the spring of that year, the Latin rhythms of The Guitar Player were sounding decidedly archaic. Although the second album was well received, still the material didn't really cut it in the Beat Boom
As an aside, his cover of 'Swiss Maid' was the hit version in Germany whilst his revival of Chubby Checker's Limbo Rock would be used in an American TV commercial some 30 years later, in the early 90s, providing Jim with a wholly unexpected nice little earner
With his UK hits now firmly behind him, Jimmy consolidated his career abroad where he continued to work for many years
Jimmy's recording career lasted from late 1960 to mid-1965. Chart success was limited to 2 top-tenners and a #20 in a six-month span from March '62. He had 13 Pye singles and two albums
Those albums whilst not too well received at the time do at least demonstrate an impressive versatility with tracks as diverse as Once In A Lifetime, Too Long Will Be Too Late, Piaf's If You Love Me, Hallelujah I Love Her So, I Wake Up Crying, Night Has A Thousand Eyes, Desafinado, Can't Get To Losing You and the Sedaka/Greenfield Since You've Been Gone
2CD set - Jimmy Justice/Ain't That Funny - The Pye Anthology**, 50 tracks
ack. to Roger Dopson's sleeve notes contained within **
|These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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