In the summer of 1987, when I was 21, I got to see Johnnie Ray at a tiny little dump in Wildwood New Jersey. He was close enough to us that his sweat rained down on us. And sweat he did. The cat really brought it, much to the delight of all the sun-burned, snowy-haired Philly Irishmen and their wives seated at the caberet-style tables, smoking and drinking well beyond the place’s two-drink minimum.
Sure, I had a few. I had on the wobbly boots as we made our way out to the gravel parking lot, where I closed the door on the fingers of Fast Eddie, the then-beau of my future mother in-law. But sentimental drunkenness aside, Johnnie had the thing, that feeling, that soul in the back of the throat that makes your hairs stand on end. He was already 60, but his voice was huge. I remember him smiling down at us. He had a hearing aid, deaf in one ear and almost deaf in the other, apparently.
Here is his classic 1951 hit, Cry. It seems like he has almost been forgotten. You never hear him anymore. The Nabob of Sob. I just remembered him when I heard the Dexy’s tune yesterday. I couldn’t stop singing the opening lines. My kids were getting annoyed.
“Poor old Johnnie Ray sounded sad upon the radio, he moved a million hearts in mono.”