Johnny Ace (not to be confused with the late great R&B singer) hails from New York City and is one of the most respected bassists in the blues profession today. Real Blues Magazine awarded him the "Best Bassist/West Coast." He honed his chops by studying with the great Bobby Anderson . Ace was given the nickname "Ace" by pals when he was growing up and coming into his own as a bassist. Paul Oscher and John Leslie gave him the name because in their opinion he was number one. He never wanted to use the name out of respect for the original Johnny Ace, but as he says "somehow the name just stuck."
Ace has worked with some of the great legendary figures in blues: Victoria Spivey, Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker, Eddie "Clean Head" Vinson, Lowell Fulson, Charlie Musselwhite and most recently Boz Scaggs. Not only is Johnny Ace an excellent bassist, but he is also a fine vocalist and band leader. He has a unique and charismatic stage presence with a sense of humor to match every inch of his musical talent.
Johnny Ace was born on June 7th, 1949 in Jamaica, Queens (N.Y.C.) and grew up in the rock & roll craze of the early 1960's. He especially learned to love and appreciate the early Doo Wop groups and would later sing Doo Wop in his late teens and early twenties. New York City was a hot spot for all the great touring groups in both blues and rock & roll and gave the young Ace a chance to hear and see so many of the movers and shakers that inspired a younger (and whiter) generation of players: B.B. King, Muddy Waters, James Cotten, Freddie King, and others. He felt an instant connection to the blues. After saving up his money that he earned by working as a Shea Stadium vendor, he bought a new Japanese-made bass for $44.00 from "Manny's", the famous music store in NYC . Originally Ace wanted to play the guitar--but he couldn't afford one at the time, and the group of teenagers he knew that were forming a blues band needed a bass player, not a guitarists. So he was talked into giving the bass a try; it was a good match.
From 1967-1970 Johnny Ace played with The Thompson Ferry Blues Band of Brooklyn, New York. Bobby Dupree who was the band's vocalist/harp player went on to record the 1980 hit "Steal Away," and Niles Rogers another band member went on to produce Madonna, Duran Duran and Mick Jagger. The Thompson Ferry Blues Band opened up for Muddy Waters in 1968. They also starved. Gigs were hard to come by. NYC catered to big name acts, not local blues players,. So Ace quit and joined up with The Brooklyn Blues Busters in 1970 whose members were John Leslie, harpist/vocalist, Frannie Kristina (later the drummer for the Fabulous Thunderbirds), Howard T. Levine on guitar and a magnificent keyboardist Bill Hyde--whom the guys nicknamed "Baseball Bill.
The Brooklyn Blues Busters quickly rose in the blues ranks and often backed up John Lee Hooker on his East Coast shows. They also backed up the Queen of the Blues, herself, Victoria Spivey, whom they called "Queenie." In 1999 a CD was made, capturing the eccentric "Queen" in all her glory! The Brooklyn Blues Busters backed her up for the 1973 Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival! Check out Queenie and the Brooklyn Blues Busters on her song "Organ Grinder"--HILARIOUS! Though Ace left the Brooklyn Blues Busters for a short, experimental stint with another group based in San Francisco, Perry and the Pumpers, he was soon back in NYC working with them again. The Brooklyn Blues Busters would remain a solid, working blues group for 5 years. In 1974 their home base became Ann Arbor, Michigan, a liberal college town, where the guys had the time of their lives. However, John Leslie --nicknamed "Rat" by Ace--soon answered to a different calling--the Porn industry! He became a porn star, and later an award winning writer and producer, rivaled only by John Holmes, and so the Blues Busters broke up in 1975.
After the years with the Brooklyn Blues Busters, Ace decided to try something a little different. He went to a small, hot, HOT, farm town--Lisbon, Iowa--where he joined up with former "pumper" and vocalist of The Elvin Bishop Group, Perry Welsh. They formed the Steve Miller Band., working with talented vocalist, keyboardist, Steve Miller. The band was great. In their first year, they were written up in Rolling Stone, a small label was interested, but Steve Miller wanted a solo career and the band split up after a year or two.
Ace went to Boston in 1975 and got together with old friends to form the Rhythm Rockers: John Nickles on guitar, Frannie Kristina on drums, Mark Kazinof on saxophone and the great David Maxwell on piano, who had already toured with Bonnie Raitt and Freddie King. This band was also great! They backed up the great blues legend Big Walter Horton, Boogie Woogie Red, and were the steady opening act for Roomful of Blues. Ronnie Horzac--not yet Ronnie Earl--was a psychology student who was just learning to play blues. He would often come by to listen to their band.--and sometimes they would let him sit in to Ace's dislike--"Let him practice at home--he's stinkin' up the stage!" Later, of course, Ronnie Earl became one of the very best in blues guitarists. Ace lasted six months with the Rhythm Rockers. He was tired of living on popcorn and koolaide. He was again starving. He left for NYC and once there, put together a Doo Wop group called the Blendanairs with Jack Scandora as the lead who to this day still sings Doo Wop--now with The Five Discs. They were really very good, but again, work was hard to come by, so Ace went back to the blues, performing with xharpist for The Muddy Waters Blues Band, Brooklyn Slim, A.K.A, Paul Oscher. They made an L.P. with Victoria Spivey and played the local, New York City blues club circuit.
Between 1975 and 1978, Ace traveled back and forth between NYC and Rapid City Iowa. He was often on the road with yet another blues band--The Lynne County Band. They toured throughout the Mid West. In 1978, Ace joined up with The Elvin Bishop Group,--his old friend Perry Welsch was still in that band and it seemed like a fun thing to do. Ace this time dropped the bass and just sang. He did a "Three Stooges- psycho " routine complete with splits. He danced; he told jokes; he carried his dwarf pal, Randy Bachman (the band photographer) on his back through the audience singing "Mickey's Monkey." They were a huge hit! They brought the house down! They wrecked the house! Because he had such a success, he formed the West Coast Sheiks and used Elvin's band to back him up. They performed as Elvin's opening act--same band--different lead singer--Ace! They often played The Mystic Theater and other large venues. Using the same band members is always difficult, however, and feeling some strain over a potentially difficult situation, Ace left The Elvin Bishop Group and went to San Francisco.
Ace took a job with Charlie Musselwhite. His old Pal Walter Shuffelsworth (of the Dynatones) played drums and Luther Tucker played guitar. They traveled all over America which included parts of the deep south. Ace never forgot what it was like in Mississippi where black people were made to walk on the other side of the street and were afraid to look a white person in the eyes. He remembered seeing chains near the docks where the old plantations still stood. It gave him the chills. Tiring of the road, he went back to San Francisco in 1981.
Ace met the woman that was to be the mother of his 4 children --Annie Quain--in San Francisco in what was then called The Coffee Gallery (Now The Lost and Found). They moved to NYC and for a time, he quit the music business, trying to raise a family (Ace had four children with Annie). After 4 years, however, he missed playing music too much and with the encouragement of his wife went back to working with some of the greats in the business. In 1984 he played with the jazz saxophonist/vocalist Eddie "Clean Head" Vinson, and then in 1985 he toured Europe and the united States with blues legend and star Otis Rush. A video was made on Otis Rush and his band in England. You can see Johnny Ace standing in front of a dressing room doorway, giving the camera man a hard time in his typical East Coast manner---hilarious! Johnny Ace also played during this period with Roscoe Gordon, the famous R& B singer from Memphis, Tennessee.
Due to hard financial times in New York City, Johnny Ace with his wife and 4 children moved back to San Francisco in 1988. His marriage was falling apart and the stresses and strains that go along with being a musician in a country that does not pay or treasure its artists took its toll. His wife left him in 1990, and he took on the responsibility of raising 4 children on his own--with the help of his sister Claire. He was also having problems with alcohol and drugs--but was still able to play and function. He worked with Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers for 5 years in San Francisco, and also performed with other Bay Area musicians such as Blackie Jones (1995--with Stu Blank on vocals/piano and Victor Voce on guitar). He also played/sang with the guitar playing prodigy Nathan Cavaliere for 2 years (1994--1996), touring Alaska and other parts of the United States. In 1994, after many failed efforts, Ace was able to sober up completely. He has been without a drink or a drug for almost 7 years to date--and that's not even a cup of coffee or a cigarette folks! He found meditation to be very helpful in the healing process and often took classes at the Psychic Institute in San Rafael, San Francisco, and Berkeley.
Though Johnny Ace and Cathy Lemons met in 1987 and were friends for many years , it was not until 1995 that they actually teamed up as romantic and musical partners to form the Cathy Lemons Johnny Ace Blues Band. With Cathy Lemons on vocals (and HOW!), Johnny Ace on bass, Pierre Le Core on guitar, and Rick Sanke on drums, they play clubs and festivals all over the Bay Area. Ace is much more than a bass player. He sings, he is a great band leader, he is the businessman behind the scenes; he is a terrific MC and he sets the groove and tone like nobody else can in the blues with his bass. Johnny Ace is also a fine writer who has had articles published regularly in Big City Blues (Johnny Ace A.K.A. Cornelius Harp). He is currently working on a screenplay and a book of dreams, illustrated by Cathy Lemons. (For Bio as photographer see http:johnnyacephoto.tripod.com.
Ace Has Worked With:
John Lee Hooker
Big Walter Horton
Johnny Little John
Eddie "Clean Head" Vinson
Boogie Woogie Red
Big Time Sarah
Ola Mae Dixon
Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers
Ace has Jammed With:
Sha Na Na
The Holmes Brothers
Big Joe Turner
The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Roomful of Blues
Visit the band website at: http://www.lemonace.com