JOHNNY MERCER WAS ONE OF THE GREATEST LYRICISTS of all time. He was also, in all probability, the most prolific with over 1000 songs to his credit. Not only did he write words to other people's melodies he often wrote his own music. As if this wasn't enough, he also recorded many sides for Capitol Records as well as appearing on radio, TV, movies and stage.
Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1909. In the twenties he moved to New York where he worked outside the music business. His first song was Out of Breath and Scared to Death of You, a song that was used for a Broadway show in 1930. By 1932 he was a singing-MC and writing for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Still in the 1930s, he recorded many sides with Jack Teagarden, Wingy Manone, Benny Goodman and Eddie Condon.
In 1935 he appeared in a couple of movies; Old Man Rhythm and To Beat The Band. Mercer then became heavily involved in radio as host of his own show Johnny Mercer's Music Shop with his old boss Paul Whiteman as musical director. He was also guesting on many other shows as vocalist and, sometime, comedian. In 1942 he was one of the founders of Capitol Records. As part owner of the company he was instrumental in bringing to the label such stars as: Nat King Cole and Stan Kenton, signing them to long term contracts. Mercer himself cut many successful sides on his own and in duets with Cole, Martha Tilton, Bing Crosby, Jo Stafford etc. The first album released by Capitol in May, 1944, was Songs By Johnny Mercer featuring various artists. He also collaborated in the writing of many songs written for the movies, including the scores for Dangerous When Wet, Laura, Daddy Long Legs, Here Come The Waves and many others. His Broadway credits include; Top Banana, Li'l Abner, St-Louis Woman, Free and Easy and many others. Mercer won Oscars for In The Cool, Cool, Cool of The Evening, On The Atcheson Topeka and Santa Fe, Moon River and The Days of Wine and Roses..
Mercer's song writing collaborators reads like a who's who of composers. He worked with Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Richard Whiting, Rube Bloom, Jimmy McHugh, Jimmy Van Heusen, Gene DePaul, Arthur Schwartz, Gordon Jenkins, Bernie Hanighen and many others. Some of his most successful songs were written in the 60s with Henry Mancini. Emerging from this collaboration were such hits as; Moon River, Charade and The Days of Wine and Roses.
He also composed the music for a number of compositions like; Dream, Harlem Butterfly, My New Celebrity is You, The Waiter and The Porter and The Upstairs Maid and Something's Gotta Give.
To me, Johnny Mercer epitomized the hip songwriter a hipness that was also reflected in his cool Southern accented singing. His voice was relaxed, swinging and bang on. One of the few writers who could have easily made it as a vocalist even if he had never written a lyric or a note of music. As executive, and Artist and Repertoire man, at Capitol Records, Mercer got to record many sides.
Unfortunately, maybe, because he left the company on bad terms, only a handful of these sides have ever been reissued. There are however, some radio transcriptions featuring Mercer doing his songs and those of others. Johnny released a fine album, later in his life, on Constellation called My Huckleberry Friend. Check out also the many tribute albums released by other singers. I highly recommend: Susannah McCorkle's The Songs of Johnny Mercer on Concord, Bill Hernderson's A Tribute to Johnny Mercer, and Lorenz Alexandria's The Songs of Johnny Mercer. These last two releases on Discovery. There's also a rare LP that, to my knowledge, has never been reissued. Check out the garage sales for this one, it's well worth looking for.
Johnny Mercer passed away in Los Angeles, June 25, 1976.
ENTIRE CONTENTS COPYRIGHT