SONG: Just Walkin’ in the Rain
ARTIST: The Prisonaires
Listen to it here:
Just Walkin’ in the Rain was written by Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley in 1952, after walking across the courtyard of the prison where both men were jailed. Riley told Bragg that that would be a great line for a song, and Bragg quickly wrote 2 of the verses which Riley transcribed (was given song writing credit by Bragg in exchange for this) as Bragg was unable to read or write. The song became a hit for Sun Records in 1953 and charted on the US Billboard R&B chart, but really gained popularity when it was covered by previously reviewed artist Johnnie Ray.
The Prisonaires were a singing group that formed while being incarcerated together at the Tennessee State Penitentiary. Their members included lead singer Johnny Bragg (6 counts of rape), Ed Thurman (murder), William Stewart (murder), John Drue Jr. (larceny) and Marcell Sanders (involuntary manslaughter). The group was discovered by local radio producer Joe Calloway when he heard them singing while preparing a broadcast from the prison. Soon, Sam Phillips of Sun Records heard them and arranged for them to be taken to Memphis to record (with guards, obviously). They grew in popularity in the American south, so much so that the Tennessee governor Frank G Clement often had the Prisonaires perform at his mansion. This incarnation of the group ended in 1956 when Johnny Bragg’s sentence was commuted, and he found moderate success with other groups including the Sunbeams and the Marigolds. “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” was the Prisonaires biggest hit.
Prisonaires lead singer Johnny Bragg, a Black man, was arrested and sentenced to 6 more years in prison for parole violation for being found in the back of a car with a woman. A white woman. His wife.
I really enjoyed listening to this song! We’ve already established how much I love doo-wop, and this song really reminded me of the Ink Spots, especially with the harmonic progression and the voice timbre of that bass singer. Bragg had a really really beautiful voice, it’s no wonder people sat up and took notice when he sang. It almost sounds like he was trained, his tone so smooth and easy, no struggle or hard effort sounds like it was made. I’m kind of sad that they are a bit of a forgotten group in this day and age (I honestly had never heard of them) and that their biggest song saw more success with a white singer, but that’s a pretty common trope at that time and nothing new. All in all, a nice little song, made even nicer by a beautiful voice.
This song has a really harrowing backstory, and the song itself is really nice, not life altering but I do enjoy it. The singer’s voice has a really nice timbre, but I wish the background singers were just a little less present. The sparseness of the background is really effective as well, with the chunking guitar sometimes playing some unexpected chords, but really staying in the background, is really enjoyable. Again, I feel like it’s fairly forgettable in the grand scheme of things and this song is another entry that is more important for its history than for the actual value of the song itself.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Johnnie Ray’s clunky version:
Eric Clapton (who I recently found out is kind of a piece of shit) and the Impressions
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