The “Golden Hits Of The 60s” 

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(Teddy Vann, Joe Dong)

Diamond 129

No. 4   February 9, 1963




“Like most everybody, I got my start in church and singing in high school,” Thunder told this writer. “My

friends got me into this. They told me I was good.  I sang on street corners.  And we’d just hang out half the

night, till like one o’clock.  Remember when that was late?”


None of Johnny’s (b. Gil Hamilton, Aug. 15, 1941, Leesburg, FL) early group sides got recorded. “There

wasn’t that much of a recording industry down here [Leesburg, Florida] then.  It was the guys up north and

on the West Coast who were doing all the records back in the ’50s.”


In 1959, Johnny headed up north in search of those recording opportunities.  “I went to New York to work

for the Drifters, as their lead singer.  Ben E. King was getting ready to leave the group.  Lacy Hollinswood

was their road manager at the time.  I had played football with him in high school.  So, he use to tell me, ‘You

got to go to New York, man. You’re great. You’d do good.’  He kind of lied to me.  So, I joined the Drifters for

a few months and toured with them.”


A few singles were issued under his God-given name for Fury and Capitol (the latter label even issued the

original take, his take, on “Tell Him,” which months later would be the EXCITERS biggie), but to make ends

meet until he met his fate and Teddy Vann, Johnny had to do anonymous back-up singing sessions.  “Teddy

was a character.  He was like the black Marlon Brando.  We met by accident.  Luther Vandeross, Dionne

Warwick and others, and I were studio people.  I just happened to be singing in the chorus, doing my back-

up bit, trying to stay alive.  And Teddy liked me and we did this “Don’t Be Ashamed.”  We thought this was a

good record.  But we needed something to make the record bilaterally symmetrical … ,” here John pauses to

chuckle some to himself, “Ah, so we threw together this “Loop De Loop.”  We just made it all up as we went

along; me and Teddy and his brother-in-law, Joey Dong.  I was playing the drums, and they were feeding me

words on scraps of paper.  I just read what they handed me.  It’s sort of crazy, huh how things turn out.

Teddy said it was a topside song.  The engineer came in and was gettin’ to mincing words about it.  We all

knew it was just a piece of garbage; all that is but Teddy.  He said, ‘You guys are crazy, it’s a hit.”‘


Thereafter, Thunder found himself being typecast. “It typecast me, boy did it ever.  I met BO DIDDLEY and

he said, ‘I never seen nobody make a million dollars on nursery rhymes.’  “It’s funny, but I wound up doing a

lot of that simple stuff, like ‘Ring Around the Rosey’ (labeled “The Rosey Dance” #122, 1963) and “Every­body

Do the Sloppy” (#67, 1965).  That was Bert Burns’ idea.  I didn’t want to do that.  As a matter of fact, most of

the records I did back in that era I didn’t want to do.  I didn’t fight it so much because that ‘Loop De Loop’

hit, and I felt maybe I’d be lucky and hit it again, and then I’d get to do what I wanted to do.”


Johnny did continue on making disks throughout the ’60s for Diamond, Calla, and United Artist. Thun­der is

especially proud of his “Movin’ and Shakin”‘ (issued on Vee Jay as by Gil Hamilton at the same time that he

was on the charts with “Loop), his only ’70s effort for Arista, “Till the Waters Stop Running,” and ”I’m Alive”

(#122, 1969).  “That was my best.  It was my first true rock effort and Bob Dylan in a Rolling Stone article

said that it was the best record he’d ever heard.”


Johnny Thunder still is actively performing and hopes to record some more hits, even flops, he adds, “I’m

not done yet, no-o-o!’