`Fat Daddy' was a voice in R&B

WAY BACK WHEN

February 24, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

During the 1960s, Baltimoreans anywhere near a radio at 6 a.m. were summoned from their slumbers by the deep ringing of a gong followed by a chorus "like the one that accompanied Richard Burton as he walked the last mile in `The Robe,'" according to The Sunday Sun Magazine.

With the stage set, an organ flared up, sounding for all the world as if it were providing the musical background for Bela Lugosi's grand entrance down a staircase in "Dracula," or any other RKO horror movie of the 1930s.

And then came the voice of Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson, the "300-pound King of Soul," with its rhythmic incantations and machine-gun-like soul jive.

His voice and delivery have been described as "precise and sonorous" yet "high-pitched and pressurized." His outrageous monologues rolled forth with a "gospel-like fervor."

"Hear me now," he'd hiss into the mike.

"Up from the very soul of breathing. Up from the orange crates. From the ghetto through the suburban areas comes your leader of rhythm and blues, the expected one - Fat Daddy, the soul boss with the hot sauce. Built for comfort, not for speed. Everyone loves a fat man! The Fat Daddy show is guaranteed to satisfy momma. I'm gonna go way out on a limb on this one, Baltimore. Fat poppa, show stoppa."

Ringing bells gave way to several pulses of the organ followed by the recorded voice of a young girl saying, "Lay it on me, Fat Daddy, lay it on me."

"Fat Daddy, your king, and I've got soul for you. This is for all the foxes wakin' up this morning. Here's a soul kiss for ya, mmmmmmmh! From the lips of the high priest, from the depth of a fat man's soul. ..."

Born in 1938, Baltimore native Paul Johnson was raised near Pennsylvania Avenue, graduated from Douglass High School, where he was sports editor of the school paper, and later received a bachelor's degree in journalism and communications from the University of Maryland, College Park.

While in college, he began working as a disc jockey at the New Albert Ballroom in the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Ave. and the Royal Theater and was influenced by the flamboyant style of another local deejay, Kelson "Chop Chop" Fisher.

After working briefly at a Danville, Va., radio station, Fat Daddy returned to Baltimore, subsequently working for radio stations WSID, WITH and finally WWIN.

Standing like a general before a battle, Fat Daddy stood before a studio console where his show took to the airwaves, somehow arising out of an organized chaos of records, commercials and his endless patter.

Here' s how the Sun Magazine described the scene in a story in 1966:

"Fat Daddy bobbing rhythmically in a constant wash of sound from the speaker on the wall is manipulating this equipment with a great deal of flair, snapping cartridges into the tapecasters, slapping 45's on the turntables, delivering finger-jabbing commercials, fiddling with a row of dials, answering the telephone, calling up for the weather report, stringing it all together with this supersonic, rhyming delivery and all the while maintaining a running conversation with whomever happens to be in the room."

Fat Daddy and his music were popular with African-Americans but also found a wide audience among whites.

"I programmed my show for the Negro originally," he said in the magazine article. "Rhythm and blues used to be race music. But Fat Daddy has become such a large character with everybody that now I program for white and black both. Music brings people closer together."

In 1971, Fat Daddy left Baltimore to do national promotions for record companies, working for Motown, Atlantic and Capitol Records.

He was 40 when he died in Los Angeles in 1978.

Esquire, Cashbox and Billboard have acclaimed him as one of the top five R&B disc jockeys in America, while Record World magazine called him simply the No. 1 soul man in the nation.

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