I received this from Johnny’s sisters and they have given me permission to post it here.
Memories of Our Brother, Johnny- by Jill Cox Parris and Debbie Cox Sloan
Many people only knew the musician, Johnny Cox, a member of The Jays, The Sparkletones, The Barons, The Swingin’ Medallions, Sassy, Rhythm Brothers, Griff & Johnny, The Out-of-Towners Band, and many more. We would like to honor his memory and introduce you to more about him as a son and a brother- the Johnny we knew and loved.
Johnny’s mother lovingly called him “Junebug” and she called him this throughout his life and reminded him (and us) many times that his favorite book was still “The Pokey Little Puppy.” In the first grade, he was asked to be the director of the 1st grade musical group in the school program, but had to relinquish the title of Director and play the cymbals instead because he was the only one who could “feel the beat” and play the cymbals at the right time. He loved playing midget football and idolized his daddy who was the coach of his team. “Johnny Rex”, the apple of his grandmother’s eye and the apple of many of his aunts’ and uncles’ eyes, would put on his “Davy Crockett” coonskin cap, and go “hunting” behind his home with his Daisy BeeBee rifle, accompanied by his beloved dog Rags. He would take his little sister to Sunday school with him and try to make her comfortable by sitting in her class with her until he could “sneak out” to his own class. Johnny’s first “normal” job was behind the soda fountain at Stinson’s drug store, where he made the best cherry cokes in Woodruff. He spent his first paycheck on a jacket with a fur-lined hood for his little sister, but in the next moment would send her screaming as he terrorized her by chasing her as he pretended he was “Frankenstein”. By the way, speaking of scared, the movie that always terrified him was “The House of Wax” starring Vincent Price.
At 13, he cut his first record with the Barons. It was called “Jaywalk”, a song he wrote and played on his saxophone. He was recruited by a band called the “Sparkletones”. The group had a hit called “Black Slacks” and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Johnny toured with them in Canada, playing sax, at the age of 14. Upon his return home, his 6-year old sister kissed his hand over and over because it was the hand that shook the hands of Ricky Nelson, Fabian, and Paul Anka!!! However, if the truth is known, his sister adored him much more than those other stars and grieved every time he went away!! He loved getting his mother to hum or sing a song to him, and then he would play it back to her on his sax…….Always amazing her!
He loved taking pictures of his sisters with his black and white film camera……..posing his little sister like Zorro or a dead cowboy, and taking pictures of his baby sister because he said “She looks like a baby model.” He taught his little sister to shag and loved bouncing his baby sister on his knees.
Johnny had many girlfriends, or those who wanted to be his girlfriend. His aloofness (which was really shyness) seemed to make him a good catch…but there were a few (Janet, Jean, Nancy, Martha, Becky, and Kay) who really captured his interest and attention. Back then, he did not like the fact that he wore glasses, so he would wear prescription sunglasses at night. When he was asked why….he would say, “Because the street lights hurt my eyes!” Johnny was the lead in the school play, and his little sister practiced his lines with him diligently. He drove a school bus, was in the Beta Club, and was voted Best Looking AND Most Talented out of his senior class……a fact he never let his family forget. He talked of taking his dates home ON Saturday nights in time to get back up to the “Wenoka” to watch “the Fugitive” on TV with his friends! On a couple of occasions, we witnessed a few of his buddies making fun of him on Sunday afternoon because he always took a Sunday afternoon ride or picnics with all of us and then went back home with us to watch Bonanza together as a family. He said it didn’t matter, because that was what he wanted to do. Daddy liked “Pa”, Lorne Green…Mama liked Brother Adam, Johnny and Debbie liked Little Joe, and Jill liked “Hoss Cartwright”….that was our favorite show.
As a Furman student, he wanted his mother to see how he had arranged his dorm room. Before he would let her in, he turned on the lamp beside his bed and started a jazz record by Dave Brubeck on his record player. This prompted his roommate to say, “Johnny, you would think you were bringing Marilyn Monroe in to see your room”, to which Johnny replied, “No, I just want Mama to like it”…he loved his mother deeply. Johnny came home on weekends to teach the 13-year old boys in Sunday school. One Sunday, as the family got ready for church together, his baby sister could not find her Sunday black patent leather shoes….so someone had to stay home with her….it was Johnny, who then promptly fell back asleep while his baby sister rode “round and round” him on her tricycle, trying to wake him! He also orchestrated a Christmas Eve service at home, directing his family members to read the Christmas Story from the Bible, and to kneel around the Christmas tree together to hold hands and pray.
Years later, when his baby sister yearned to drive the family car, Johnny took the opportunity to teach her all he knew about driving. Johnny was 29, and Jill was 13. Nearly 10 years had passed since Johnny had lived at home with the rest of the family, but he still had a big brother’s heart. Not surprisingly, he managed to get the family car and his baby sister home safely. After only 30 minutes, Johnny was sitting in the passenger seat while baby sister drove as they rolled up in the driveway. Our parents were not surprised at all….. that was typical “Brother Johnny.”
We were always proud of Johnny and the fact that he was a great musician. We’ve always held a soft spot in our hearts for musicians, since both our Dad and brother played music. You know, most “normal” families back when we were growing up had formal living rooms where the mothers kept the nicest furniture in the house… you know, the room where children were not allowed to play? Well, our home’s living room was filled with guitar amps, a Hammond organ, a Farfisa keyboard, a saxophone stand, and drums. Our family’s house is where our Dad and brother’s band rehearsed many times. While we rode bicycles up and down the street outdoors, or did homework in the adjoining room, we could hear the sounds of our Daddy and Johnny playing their songs, laughing and talking with their band mates. That was what occupied our mother’s living room (it takes a special breed also to be a musician’s wife)! We can’t help but smile when we remember the smells and sounds of laughter, leather guitar cases, cigarette smoke, and chord progressions being discussed and shouted out above the tunes. Over and over again, they would play, until the song was perfect. Looking back now, we laugh about how we never realized this wasn’t “ordinary.” We never stopped to think that other living rooms in Woodruff were not filled with bulky music gear, microphones, and long, black, winding cables plugged into amplifiers. It all seemed normal to us then, and we never thought otherwise….. until now.
A very early memory of our brother is of him performing at the American Legion Hut in Woodruff with a group of teenage boys. He was playing his beloved saxophone, of course, and we were in the crowd watching the band and swaying to the music as he played the song, “Last Night”. His baby sister was 3, his little sister was 11, and Johnny was 19 at the time. At one point he came down from the stage area and began to hold our hands, dancing with us and laughing. We also were privileged to be with him and see him play the last time he performed on his beloved sax in December, 2008…..a memory we will cherish forever. We now realize with the passing of our brother (and our Daddy 3 years ago), that their presence in our lives made our family’s life as extraordinary and un- typical as you might imagine. Looking back on these memories, we wouldn’t have had our lives any other way!
By the way, no one will ever play “Danny Boy” as good as our big brother did!
Music lovers throughout the Carolinas are reeling from the loss of saxophone player Johnny Cox, who died in Charleston, S.C. last Saturday afternoon, March 20, 2009. Musically and personally Johnny threw a bright light from the upstate of South Carolina to the Grand Strand. Well-known for his time with the Swingin’ Medallions, he’s also played with the Out of Towners, Greg Moseley & the Carolina Players, Griff and just about every band that passes through. It was a year ago this week that I sat down with Johnny and blues guitarist Michael Stallings, at Deckerz Saloon in North Myrtle Beach.
What struck me then … and what I remember now … is his smiling face as he spoke about his career and his early days in music. “My daddy really kept me in line,” Johnny said. “At 13 I was wanting to teach these other guys how to play their instruments. Imagine, I was trying to tell the guitar player how to play ‘Rebel Rouser!’
“I learned some respect with the Swingin’ Medallions, too. One of the best lessons we ever learned, in fact . . . We were playing Augusta, Ga. with Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces. I must have been 22 or 23. This old station wagon with an old U-Haul trailer pulls up and this bunch of ‘old 60-ish guys’ get out and introduced themselves. It was Bobby Moore and his group. “We took one look at them and said to each other, ‘We’re going to smoke ‘em.’
“Well, we didn’t smoke ‘em. (One guy was playin’ a Birdland guitar.) They smoked us! We learned respect.”
The more I talk to people about Johnny, the more I realize that these early lessons stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Saxophone player and vocalist Tony Kennedy, formerly with the Rickey Godfrey Band and now playing with the Out of Towners and Freshwater – knew Johnny through his family. “Johnny was my wife’s second cousin.. He was just a great human being. It’s a sad note to see him go.”
Susan and Donny Trexler have also been close friends, “It’s hard to accept that we won’t see Johnny come in the door of the club where we’re playing and start unpacking his sax. What a joy when he joined us to blow that horn! We will both miss his smiling face and sweet sax.” says Susan, and Donny adds, “We’ve known Johnny since he was with the Medallions and he’s always been such a true, honest, and great friend. Never pretentious, just down home good people.”
Singer songwriter Calabash Flash echoed that, “Johnny was such a humble guy. Babs and I met him ten or 12 years ago, and he never even mentioned that he had been in the Swingin’ Medallions. He was just a regular guy … never bragging… just happy to play.”
I’ve been talking and reminiscing with a lot of folks about Johnny, and every last one of them talks about Johnny’s positive attitude.
Rickey Godfrey was in his teens when he first met Johnny. “I remember Johnny Cox as always having a positive attitude, and a compulsive love for the music. Years ago, Johnny used to play with Alan Pearson, a great drummer, who was later in my band, Garfeel Ruff, during the 1970s. Wherever Johnny went he always carried his saxophone with him, he loved sitting in and jamming with everybody. It was always a great time.”
Guitarist Randy Humble goes way back with Johnny. In fact, he and Johnny were both members of the Rhythm Brothers AND Griff’s Clyde Miller Blues Band (named for Griff’s two black labs, Clyde and Miller). “I love Johnny,” says Randy. “He’s down to earth, a good person and a super friend, a super person.”
Singer Pam Russell from Shaggie Maggie adds to the accolades, “The thing about Johnny is, he was always out there in the scene, lovin’ life, playin’ music. The first time I met him, we were playing in some little spot in High Point. Johnny showed up with his sax, ‘Hey, can I sit in?’ That was Johnny.”
When I talked to Michael Stallings he reminded me of the stories he and Johnny first told me at Deckerz. “I still remember the exact first night I met Johnny,” he said. “I was playing at the Bushes in Greensboro, maybe ‘92 or ‘93, and of course Johnny wanted to sit in. Well I heard him play and didn’t want him to leave! In fact I invited him to join up with us that same night. Eventually, we started working together some.” Next he told me a story about a three-day marathon recording session in Griff’s “little deathtrap studio” that had me laughing out loud.
Hack Bartley has known Johnny Cox since the late 60s. “We joined the Medallions at almost the same time,” he says, “In fact, it’s just 42 years ago to the week that we met, I think. Johnny was a great musician, a great friend and a great team player. From the beginning, he was my musical mentor. I took all my sax playing cues from Johnny. I mean, I was 13 when I got my first horn. When Johnny was 13, he was already touring.
“Another thing about Johnny,” Hack continued, “is that he always made sure everyone got their turn in the spotlight. He’d step in to play, but he always knew when to step back, too. Very generous. If you ask me to say something about Johnny Cox, it’s that he was always positive … it was always, ‘let’s get out on stage and have some fun!’” Hack laughed at this point in the conversation, but it wasn’t a happy laugh. “This is a sad time,” he commented, “It’s a sad time for music lovers.”
Founder of the Medallions John McElrath feels much the same. “Johnny was one of my favorite people in the whole world, and as a musician, he was a perfectionist … always practicing … always playing.”
Johnny Cox affected everyone he met. From Internet deejay Bill Swanke, better known as Willie C, comes, “Johnnie was a friend to all, and everyone loved him.He loved the music and loved playing his sax with anyone and everyone for the love and fun of playing the music. He will be truly missed by all. The great band in Heaven now has another player.”
Sea-Cruz keyboard player Dino Fair added, “Beach music has lost one of its true icons. Not only was he a great musician, he was a good friend and one of the last good guys.” Fellow saxophonist Butch Barnes calls him “one of the most giving musicians in the business.”
Two of his best buddies are blues musician Griff and 94.9 The Surf deejay Billy Smith. Both wanted to talk about him, but clearly were having a tough time. “Johnny and I could sort of read each other’s mind,” Griff said. “You know, he could improvise as well as anyone I’ve ever known. He was a great musician and a great friend. … We were just on the same page.”
“I just loved to be around him,” Billy Smith told me, “And I can’t believe I’m not going to see him again. Johnny I would get together for a cocktail (we called it a cup of coffee) and sit and reminisce every day. We’d talk about movies, about music, about everything… He was so talented … so good … God bless him, at the Christmas Eve show, right around the time he was diagnosed [with cancer] and I pushed him to play ‘Silent Night’ and it was hard for him. That was a sad moment, sad for me to remember.” He adds, simply, “I loved him.”
It might be Susan Trexler, who summed up Johnny Cox the best. “He was happy. Johnny was a happy guy who lived every day as if it were his last.”
I hadn’t intended to call Linda Cox, Johnny’s wife of 15 years. I didn’t want to intrude, but when she heard I was writing this piece, she wanted to say a few words.“Please thank people for me … for all their worrying. Everyone misses Johnny, I know.
“It’s hard, but I’ll be all right. I’ve got my little business to run and I’ve got lots of friends to help take care of me.
Linda went on to tell me, “I met Johnny 20 years ago at Big E’s in High Point. We’ve been there for each other… supporting each other. He was my best friend … and the love of my life. I know how sad everyone is.”
A memorial service is tentatively set for11:30 a.m. on April 5 at the Pavilion in North Myrtle Beach with Rev. Beaver. A celebration of Johnny’s life will follow immediately next door at the O.D. Beach Club located inside the O.D. Resort. Sure hope they’ll be jammin’, ’cause I know Johnny will show up to sit in.
If you have a Johnny Cox story you’d like to add, feel free to leave a comment. If it’s too long for a comment, email it to email@example.com and I’ll either add it to this or another post. Thanks for stoppin’ by!